What to do when you've hit a wall | Advice from Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt

In 1978 Brian Eno, a man who needs no introduction and Peter Schmidt, a British artist who amongst other things created art work for some of Eno's albums, published the first of five sets of cards displaying the artist's working philosophies, which they referred to as "Oblique Strategies". Within each set is a series of cards that contain a cryptic phrase, which can be used to break a creative standstill or dilemma.  According to Wikipedia, references to these cards have been made in the film, Slacker, as well as the REM song, What's The Frequency Kenneth. It is also said that both Coldplay and Phoenix used these strategies, which can be purchased as Apps for your iphone, when making their most recent records.


Schmidt with Eno                                                                                                   A portrait of Eno by Schmidt

The actual card set....oooh....ahhhh

Sample Card Sayings

Abandon normal instruments

Accept advice

Ask people to work against their better judgement

Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency

Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor

Destroy -nothing -the most important thing

Disconnect from desire

Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them

Distorting time

Do nothing for as long as possible

Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do

Emphasise differences

Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them

Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the last thing on the list

What are you really thinking about just now? Incorporate


Additional Information

The Oblique Strategies are a deck of cards. Up until 1996, they were quite easy to describe. They measured about 2-3/4" x 3-3/4". They came in a small black box which said "OBLIQUE STRATEGIES" on one of the top's long sides and "BRIAN ENO/PETER SCHMIDT" on the other side. The cards were solid black on one side, and had the aphorisms printed in a 10-point sans serif face on the other.

That was then, and this is now. There is now another set of the Oblique Strategies in existence, and it looks nothing like this; perhaps the best way to think of the differences between the earlier versions and the fourth edition deck is by analogy. Where the earlier versions were a quiet, well-dressed neighbor who, once you got used to her/him, turned out to be a funny, intriguing, and frighteningly prescient friend, the 1996 version is the equivalent of going to the other apartment on your floor to ask directions to someplace and discovering a large, noisy party full of tipsy graduate students attempting some kind of fashionable dance en masse who pause only to give you advice in a half-dozen languages.

But I digress. Perhaps it's best to attempt a description of their intention and function.

The deck itself had its origins in the discovery by Brian Eno that both he and his friend Peter Schmidt (a British painter whose works grace the cover of "Evening Star" and whose watercolours decorated the back LP cover of Eno's "Before and After Science" and also appeared as full-size prints in a small number of the original releases) tended to keep a set of basic working principles which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure - either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you're running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking - to jog the mind.

It is not clear from any sources I've run across whether the cards were explicitly intended to be oracular at the outset - that is, whether or not Peter Schmidt and Eno necessarily saw them exclusively as a "single instruction/single response" kind of "game". The introductory cards included in all three versions of the first versions of the Oblique Strategies suggest otherwise. It seems clear, also, that the deck was not conceived of as a set of "fixed" instructions, but rather a group of ideas to be added to or modified over time; each of the three decks included 4 or 5 blank cards, intended to be filled and used as needed.

For even more information, including interviews with Eno about the cards, and ways to purchase signed copies of the cards, click here.

Categories: Music, art, Advice