Oblique Strategies

The Oblique Strategies interface is as simple as possible.
The Oblique Strategies interface is as simple as possible.

In 1989, Richard Linklater made Slacker, an independent comedy/drama set and filmed in Austin, Texas for just $23,000. The film is fun, weird, funny, and extensively quotable…

  • Hitchhiker: Every single commodity you produce is a piece of your own death!
  • Hitchhiker: I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to “work” to do it.
  • Dostoyevsky Wannabe: Who’s ever written a great work about the immense effort required in order not to create?
  • Guy Who Tosses Typewriter: Because! The typewriter isn’t the point. The point is, it symbolizes the bitch that just fucked him over. It symbolizes the bitch that fucked me over six months ago. And it symbolizes the bitch that’s GONNA fuck you over!
  • Old Man: When young, we mourn for one woman… as we grow old, for women in general.
  • Video Backpacker: To me, my thing is, a video image is much more powerful and useful than an actual event. Like back when I used to go out, when I was last out, I was walking down the street and this guy, that came barreling out of a bar, fell right in front of me, and he had a knife right in his back, landed right on the ground and… Well, I have no reference to it now. I can’t put it on pause. I can’t put it on slow mo and see all the little details. And the blood, it was all wrong. It didn’t look like blood. The hue was off. I couldn’t adjust the hue. I was seeing it for real, but it just wasn’t right. And I didn’t even see the knife impact on the body. I missed that part.
  • Breakthrough Day: The underlying order is chaos.

I highly recommend it.

About two thirds of the way through the film, we come across a a woman building her menstrual cycle with large cups in a circle on the ground, and a woman who offers a man a card. On the cards, she explains, are Oblique Strategies, ideas created to help artists break through creative blocks.

“I told you I was having a breakthrough day. Shewy, howdy, shucks,” the card woman exclaims. To this day, I still use and love the expression, “breakthrough day.”

Here is that scene…

The Oblique Strategies concept was originally created by musician Brian Eno (who later went on to produce for musicians like U2 and David Bowie) as a means of breaking through writer’s block and seeing things in a different creative light or from a different angle.

I thought of this recently, and in the process, found an iPhone app (link) for 99¢ that functioned like the deck of cards. You can also shuffle and read the cards on an antiquated web page (link).

If you are finding yourself in a rut or blocked in your creative endeavors, Oblique Strategies might be for you.

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2 Comments

  1. I suppose “a creative” (person) would get that site. I didn’t. As a (generally) non-artist, it seems like a straightforward process: (1) What am I trying to create / say / express? (2) How can I best express that? (3) Whatever the answer to number two is, do that.

    This makes me wonder if perhaps the most successful artists/writers/etc. aren’t actually creative at all. Truly “creative” people are starving musicians, broke painters, and so on — or people barely making it. Or folks like you who are truly creative and found a way to make a living on the edge of that creativity.

    But the Stephen Kings and Anne Rices and Bonos and Madonnas — maybe they’re not creative. Maybe they’re following the decidedly non-creative three steps I outlined above, and it shot them to the top. Instead of allowing passion to carry them, and swirling ideas in their minds to guide them, they — with much clarity of purpose — thought about what they wanted to do, made a plan, and executed that plan with a coldness.

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  2. “This makes me wonder if perhaps the most successful artists/writers/etc. aren’t actually creative at all.” (Anderon’s comment)

    That’s an interesting thing to wonder… On the face of it, it makes sense. I’ve met several people who are *purely* creative — a wonderful musician in San Antonio, for example, and he sometimes wonders why he never “made it”. It’s because he’s creating his art (and is very good at it) but knows next to nothing about sales/promotion, doesn’t like dealing with agents/producers, doesn’t like the *business* end of things — THAT is why he never “made it”.

    Richard is both creative AND practical, something of an odd combination these days, and has found practical ways to use his creativity to make a living.

    And those famous people you mentioned are most like both as well. If they were only adept at the business end of things, they’d have no content to sell. If they were only adept at the content-creation, they wouldn’t be selling it. It takes a little bit of both, or a VERY good/trusted agent to act on your behalf.

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