Friday, February 23, 2024

Oblique Strategies, Art, and Creativity Redux

Austin Kleon mentioned Eno's Oblique Strategies in his newsletter this week. It made me recall the massive write-up by former Disinfo editor Alex Burns on the topic (strangely enough, we're coming up on the anniversary of that post...synchronicity?). 

Eno's Oblique Strategies refers to a set of cards designed by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt. These cards are intended to help artists, particularly musicians, overcome creative blocks or stimulate new ideas by providing them with a series of prompts or constraints. Each card contains a unique phrase or suggestion meant to encourage lateral thinking and unconventional approaches to problem-solving.

The origins of Oblique Strategies can be traced back to the mid-1970s when Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt were collaborating on various artistic projects. Eno, known for his innovative approach to music and production techniques, sought ways to break free from creative ruts and foster serendipitous moments in his work. Schmidt, an artist, shared similar interests in exploring unconventional methods of creativity. Together, they developed the concept of Oblique Strategies as a tool to aid in their own creative processes.

The cards themselves are typically small in size, featuring one phrase or directive per card. Some examples of phrases found on the cards include "Use an old idea," "Emphasize differences," and "Disconnect from desire." The phrases are deliberately ambiguous and open to interpretation, allowing users to apply them to various creative challenges they may encounter.

Eno and Schmidt intended for Oblique Strategies to be used in diverse creative contexts beyond just music, including visual art, writing, design, and problem-solving in general. The cards have since gained a cult following among artists of all disciplines and are often cited as a valuable resource for overcoming creative blocks and generating fresh ideas.

Over the years, various individuals and groups have created their own versions or adaptations of Oblique Strategies, either as a form of homage to Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's original concept or as a means of exploring similar ideas in different contexts. Some of these adaptations maintain the format of cards with prompts or directives, while others take different forms such as apps, websites, or even physical objects like dice or spinning wheels. Here are a few examples:

1. Tarot of the Silicon Dawn: Created by artist and writer Egypt Urnash, this tarot deck draws inspiration from Eno's Oblique Strategies among other sources. It features a contemporary and unconventional approach to traditional tarot imagery and symbolism, offering users a tool for reflection, guidance, and inspiration.

2. Creative Whack Pack: Designed by creativity expert Roger von Oech, the Creative Whack Pack consists of 64 cards, each containing a tip, technique, or strategy to stimulate creative thinking. While not directly inspired by Oblique Strategies, it shares a similar goal of helping individuals break through creative blocks and generate innovative ideas.

3. The Writer's Block: Created by Seth Godin, The Writer's Block is a set of cards designed to help writers overcome writer's block and spark creativity. Each card contains a writing prompt or suggestion to inspire new ideas and approaches to writing.

4. Oblique Strategies Apps and Websites: Several digital versions of Oblique Strategies have been developed over the years, including mobile apps and websites that generate random prompts or suggestions at the click of a button. These digital adaptations offer a convenient and accessible way for users to access creative inspiration on the go.

5. DIY Versions: Many creative individuals have taken inspiration from Oblique Strategies to create their own DIY versions, whether it's handwritten cards, personalized prompts, or unique interpretations tailored to their specific creative needs.

6. Oblique Strategies Online Generators: In addition to standalone apps and websites, there are also online generators where users can access randomized Oblique Strategy prompts. These generators often replicate the experience of drawing a card from the physical deck but in a digital format. They provide a quick and easy way for users to engage with the prompts without needing to own a physical deck.

7. Customized Oblique Strategies Decks: Some individuals and organizations have created their own customized decks of Oblique Strategies, tailoring the prompts to specific industries, creative processes, or personal preferences. These custom decks may feature prompts that are more relevant or resonant to the users' particular context, making them even more effective for overcoming creative blocks.

8. Oblique Strategies Workshops and Events: Artists, educators, and facilitators sometimes incorporate Oblique Strategies into workshops, brainstorming sessions, and other creative events. Participants may draw cards at random and use them as prompts for collaborative exercises, improvisation, or problem-solving activities. These workshops provide a hands-on experience of using Oblique Strategies in a group setting and encourage participants to explore new avenues of creativity together.

9. Oblique Strategies Books and Publications: Some authors and creative thinkers have written books or articles exploring the principles behind Oblique Strategies and how they can be applied to various creative endeavors. These publications often delve into the philosophy of lateral thinking, serendipity, and embracing constraints as catalysts for innovation. They may also offer practical tips and case studies illustrating the effectiveness of using Oblique Strategies in different contexts.

10. Oblique Strategies-inspired Art Installations: Artists sometimes incorporate Oblique Strategies or similar concepts into interactive art installations or performances. These installations may invite viewers to participate by drawing cards, engaging with prompts, or contributing their own creative responses. By blurring the lines between audience and creator, these artworks encourage active engagement with the principles of creative exploration and experimentation.

These examples illustrate the versatility and adaptability of the Oblique Strategies concept, as well as its ongoing relevance as a tool for nurturing creativity and fostering innovative thinking in various domains.

Creating your own DIY version of Oblique Strategies can be a fun and rewarding project. Here are the steps you can follow to make your personalized deck:

1. Gather Materials:

   - Index cards or cardstock: You'll need sturdy paper to write or print your prompts on. Index cards are a convenient option, but you can also cut cardstock into smaller, uniform pieces.

   - Writing utensils: Pens, markers, or fine-tip Sharpies for writing your prompts. If you prefer a more polished look, you can also use a computer and printer to generate printed prompts.

2. Generate Prompts:

   - Brainstorm a list of phrases, suggestions, or directives that you find inspiring or thought-provoking. These can be anything from creative prompts to motivational statements to philosophical musings.

   - Consider the spirit of Oblique Strategies: aim for prompts that are open-ended, ambiguous, and encourage lateral thinking.

   - You can draw inspiration from various sources such as books, quotes, personal experiences, or existing Oblique Strategies decks.

3. Write or Print Prompts:

   - Write each prompt clearly and legibly on a separate index card or piece of cardstock. Use a consistent format and style to maintain coherence throughout the deck.

   - Alternatively, you can type the prompts on a computer and print them onto the cards using a printer. Experiment with different fonts, colors, and layouts to customize the appearance of your deck.

4. Design the Cards:

   - Get creative with the design of your DIY Oblique Strategies cards. You can add visual elements, illustrations, or decorative touches to make each card unique and visually appealing.

   - Consider incorporating imagery or symbols that resonate with the themes of your prompts or reflect your personal style and interests.

   - Leave enough space on each card for the prompt to stand out and be easily readable.

5. Optional: Laminate the Cards:

   - For added durability, you can laminate each card using a laminating machine or self-adhesive laminating sheets. This will protect the cards from wear and tear, making them last longer.

6. Assemble Your Deck:

   - Once you've written, printed, and designed all your cards, assemble them into a deck. You can arrange the cards in any order you like or shuffle them to add an element of randomness.

   - Consider adding a title card or introduction to your deck, explaining its purpose and how to use it for creative inspiration.

7. Experiment and Enjoy:

   - Your DIY Oblique Strategies deck is now ready to use! Experiment with drawing cards at random whenever you're feeling stuck or in need of creative stimulation.

   - Explore different ways of interpreting and applying the prompts to your creative projects, and have fun discovering new ideas and approaches along the way.

Here are a few additional steps to further customize and enhance your DIY Oblique Strategies deck:

8. Theme or Focus: Consider giving your deck a specific theme or focus based on your interests or the types of creative projects you typically engage in. For example, if you're a visual artist, you might include prompts related to composition, color theory, or artistic techniques. If you're a writer, you could include prompts for character development, plot twists, or overcoming writer's block.

9. Collaborative Contributions: Invite friends, family, or colleagues to contribute prompts to your deck. This collaborative approach can add diversity and richness to the prompts, incorporating different perspectives and insights into the creative process.

10. Visual Cues: Incorporate visual cues or symbols on the cards to complement the text prompts. These visual elements can serve as additional inspiration or provide context for interpreting the prompts. For example, you could include abstract shapes, photographs, or illustrations that evoke mood or atmosphere.

11. Interactive Elements: Experiment with adding interactive elements to your DIY deck to make the experience more engaging. For example, you could include cards with blank spaces where users can write or draw their own responses to the prompts. This interactive aspect encourages active participation and creative exploration.

12. Packaging and Presentation: Consider how you want to package and present your DIY Oblique Strategies deck. You could create a custom box or pouch to store the cards, adding a tactile and aesthetic dimension to the experience. Personalize the packaging with artwork, labels, or embellishments that reflect the spirit of your deck.

13. Digital Version: If you prefer digital formats, you can also create a virtual version of your Oblique Strategies deck using digital design tools or software. This allows you to access the prompts on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, making it convenient to use anytime, anywhere.

14. Iterative Refinement: Your DIY Oblique Strategies deck doesn't have to be static. As you use the deck and gain insights from your creative experiments, consider refining or adding new prompts to better suit your evolving needs and interests. Treat it as a living, evolving tool that grows and adapts along with your creative journey.

By incorporating these additional steps, you can create a truly personalized and versatile DIY Oblique Strategies deck that serves as a valuable resource for sparking creativity, overcoming challenges, and exploring new artistic horizons.

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