How To Break Creative Block With Oblique Strategies

In 1975, musician Brian Eno and his painter friend Peter Schmidt published the original pack of Oblique Strategies cards, through thinking about approaches to their own creative work. The idea behind their deck of cards was for artists to break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking through following the aphorism on a randomly selected card

The reason I want to blog about these little cards is that they were mentioned to me on my very first day at art school. I'm certainly no stranger to creative blocks - and when I hit that brick wall, I really hit it hard! Creative blocks can turn into a vicious downward spiral, and the oblique strategies are an excellent tool for encouraging a new perspective on things in order to break the negative loop in one’s head.

To give you an idea of the kind of 'advice' the cards dish out to you, here's 10 randomly selected card messages:

Retrace your steps
Turn it upside down 
Use your own ideas
Emphasise repetitions 
Just carry on
Is there something missing?
Use an unacceptable colour 
In total darkness, in a very large room, very quietly
What else is this like?

The impact of the cards on creative block has been described as “Like when you’re feeling a pain in your foot and someone slaps you in the face, suddenly you’re not feeling the pain in your foot anymore". Just one of these cryptic messages has the power to throw you off your original thought process, and that can be all it takes to get the ball rolling again. During the creative process, sometimes your thoughts solidify, and the effect of the cards is to make them liquid again. 

The first edition of Oblique Strategies was privately printed in a limited, numbered and signed edition of 500. If you want a physical copy of the new fifth edition you can buy them for £30.00 (about $48). However there are several online versions available for free such as this one, and even Twitter accounts that tweet messages from randomly chosen cards. 
It is a universally acknowledged fact that if our practising becomes monotonous and thoughtless, it will not be productive. So, perhaps add one of the online versions to your bookmarks and hopefully next time you're at a creative loss they might just relight that creative spark. 

Matisse Cut Outs Exhibition Review

As the blockbuster exhibition of Matisse’s paper cut-outs drew to a close on the 7th September, Tate has since announced that it has become the most popular show in their history, attracting more than half a million visitors. 562,600 people went to the Tate Modern in London to see the groundbreaking exhibition, which also makes it one of the most popular paid-for exhibitions in Britain for decades. I was lucky enough to be one of those 562,600 people who witnessed the beauty of Matisse's last years of work, and I know first hand why this particular showcase has captured the public’s imagination in such a profound way.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century who brought a whole new concept of colour to the art world. For the last 17 years of his life, he developed an entirely new approach by carving directly into colour with a giant pair of scissors.  From small studies that show him using cut-outs as compositional tools for paintings, to his prophetic final works, Matisse’s genius surges, growing room by room as the works themselves become ever more ambitious. 

Every single room in the exhibition from start to finish was a joy to explore and 2 hours went by in a flash. From mermaids to dancers, circus scenes and a famous snail, the exhibition showcases an impressive range of 120 works made between 1936 and 1954. 
I knew the exhibition was going to be something special, but what I wasn't prepared for was the way in which I would be emotionally touched by it. It was such a joyous and fascinating collection and it has stayed close to the forefront of my mind for weeks after visiting the galley - also becoming the only exhibition I've felt inclined to buy the accompanying book from! Matisse wanted “anyone tired, worn down, driven to the limits of endurance, to find calm and repose” in his art. In this he certainly succeeded. I left the exhibition inspired to start practical art again, what more can you ask of an exhibition?

I'm no stranger to exhibitions but there was something about the fact that at a time in his life where Matisse was very unwell, he managed to not only carry on his artistic career, but reach new heights of creative triumph. There can't be many people who left the exhibition this summer that didn't want to replace their home decor with the vibrancy and excitement of Matisse's cut outs.