‘Honor thy error as a hidden intention’ – Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies

Working in a library, I often come across titles that belong to that loose sub-genre of self-help books promising to ‘unlock your creativity in 5 easy steps’ or some such claim. I don’t claim to be an expert in these matters but a formalised approach, such as you would find in a book length work, doesn’t seem the most inspiring way to approach this particular problem. I’m more interested in the approach taken by Brian Eno with his series of Oblique Strategies.

 ‘the inconsistency principle’

Created in partnership with the composer Peter Schmidt in 1974, the Oblique Strategies consist of a deck of 115 white cards, with each strategy declared in plain black text. There is a free website you can visit that will randomly serve up a card on every refresh. You can also find a PDF of the full set of instruction online.

‘convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element’

Eno is a musician and visual artist, who also works as a music producer and is often the go to when bands or artist are having creative difficulties, he has worked with Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay and David Bowie, among others. In his role as producer, Eno often uses the Obliques Strategies, randomly drawing a card to offer some enigmatic way out of a creative problem.

‘look at the order in which you do things’

While the strategies were initially created with musicians in mind, they work well for other creative practices too and could probably be useful in solving everyday problems as well. How should I organise the spice cupboard? ‘disconnect from desire’ what outfit do I wear to the party? ‘Courage!’

‘you don’t have to be ashamed of using your own ideas’

What I like about this approach to creativity is that it encourages us to turn away from what we might consider objectively ‘good’, or what ideas might currently be in fashion, and see the creative process as interesting in and of itself, with endless options for the direction of a work if we’re prepared to be oblique.

‘what wouldn’t you do?’

What you should do is check out the huge program of events happening at YPRL across march for Maker Month.

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