Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies - 5th Edition

I have been a fan of Brian Eno since his Roxy Music days. I work to his ambient music, I play with Bloom on my iPhone, I am intrigued by the Long Now Foundation of which he was a founding member, and I’m always interested in his strategies as an artist. One of his most renowned strategies, which I have taken to heart over the years and use regularly in my own practice, is the tool called OBLIQUE STRATEGIES.

In brief, Oblique Strategies is a set of cards which contain aphorisitc jolts to kickstart, derail or otherwise inspire creative thinking. They were developed by Brian Eno and the painter Peter Schmidt in 1975 and have since gone through several editions. You can read about the various versions and their attributes on Greg Taylor’s comprehensive website. The current 5th edition is available from Brian Eno’s webshop. There are also various easily found javascript versions which are available for download to your computer.

I find the cards themselves the most satisfying format. Perhaps its the atavistic experience of handling cards – like consulting the Tarot or the iChing. I think though its connected to the visceral quality of the experience.  I’m ususally using the cards to help me asssess or change the direction that my studio work is taking. This is a very physical and often emotional experience for me, so the physicality of the cards ‘feels’ right.

Brian Eno said the following about Oblique Strategies –

“The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation – particularly in studios – tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you’re in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that’s going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn’t the case – it’s just the most obvious and – apparently – reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt ‘this’ attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt ‘that’ attitude.”

The first Oblique Strategy said “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” And, in fact, Peter’s first Oblique Strategy – done quite independently and before either of us had become conscious that the other was doing that – was …I think it was “Was it really a mistake?” which was, of course, much the same kind of message. Well, I collected about fifteen or twenty of these and then I put them onto cards. At the same time, Peter had been keeping a little book of messages to himself as regards painting, and he’d kept those in a notebook. We were both very surprised to find the other not only using a similar system but also many of the messages being absolutely overlapping, you know…there was a complete correspondence between the messages. So subsequently we decided to try to work out a way of making that available to other people, which we did; we published them as a pack of cards, and they’re now used by quite a lot of different people, I think.

Brian Eno, interview with Charles Amirkhanian, KPFA-FM Berkeley, 2/1/80

Over the years I’ve edited the deck I use down to the most useful or most perplexing aphorisms and I have added several of my own. My current list of cards can be found under Oblique Strategies on the main menu to the left – the items in red are my additions. I encourage you to explore the cards too and please send me any additions to the deck which you think could be useful by commenting directly to this post. Thanks!


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