In 1975, musician Brian Eno and his painter friend Peter Schmidt published the original pack of Oblique Strategies cards, through thinking about approaches to their own creative work. The idea behind their deck of cards was for artists to break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking through following the aphorism on a randomly selected card.
The reason I want to blog about these little cards is that they were mentioned to me on my very first day at art school. I'm certainly no stranger to creative blocks - and when I hit that brick wall, I really hit it hard! Creative blocks can turn into a vicious downward spiral, and the oblique strategies are an excellent tool for encouraging a new perspective on things in order to break the negative loop in one’s head.
To give you an idea of the kind of 'advice' the cards dish out to you, here's 10 randomly selected card messages:
Retrace your steps
Turn it upside down
Use your own ideas
Just carry on
Is there something missing?
Use an unacceptable colour
In total darkness, in a very large room, very quietly
What else is this like?
The impact of the cards on creative block has been described as “Like when you’re feeling a pain in your foot and someone slaps you in the face, suddenly you’re not feeling the pain in your foot anymore". Just one of these cryptic messages has the power to throw you off your original thought process, and that can be all it takes to get the ball rolling again. During the creative process, sometimes your thoughts solidify, and the effect of the cards is to make them liquid again.
The first edition of Oblique Strategies was privately printed in a limited, numbered and signed edition of 500. If you want a physical copy of the new fifth edition you can buy them for £30.00 (about $48). However there are several online versions available for free such as this one, and even Twitter accounts that tweet messages from randomly chosen cards.
It is a universally acknowledged fact that if our practising becomes monotonous and thoughtless, it will not be productive. So, perhaps add one of the online versions to your bookmarks and hopefully next time you're at a creative loss they might just relight that creative spark.