January 19, 2022
Q&A 057

🃏 Oblique

Most people feel creativity is an elusive, dark art. Something you're born with or not, something you had as a child but lost along the way. Tons of research, however, show that creativity is something you can (re-)learn and practice. It's a skill like any other. But even when you're a seasoned artist, having the equivalent of a sixpack worth of creative muscle, things can get tough. You can get stuck.

Some time ago I bumped into the story of a mythical set of creativity cards, called Oblique Strategies. The idea was born in the 60's and 70's, when musician / producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt had independently come up with a set of 'cue cards' to break a deadlock or dilemma situation. In 1975 they combined their efforts and created a deck for sale in a limited edition of 500 sets.

The strategies mentioned include "Honor thy error as a hidden intention", "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify", "Not building a wall; making a brick" and "Repetition is a form of change", cryptic advice in some cases.

When hitting a block, a card was drawn and that advice was to be followed in any shape or form. Helping out during several recording sessions in Eno's studio, they can count the likes of R.E.M., Coldplay and David Bowie amongst their fans. "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy." even made it literally to the lyrics of R.E.M.'s 1994 "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"

If you want more, Maria Popova wrote a wonderful piece on the deck, and if you're in need of one for your own creative block, this site presents a new Oblique Strategy on each refresh.