Maybe a little less Oblique?
October 11, 2006 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any favorite oblique strategy style things that are specific for the art you use them for? Like one sentence techniques that go around creative blocks and allow you to do great things?

I work on a lot of creative projects, and I hate that feeling of knowing you're not satisfied but feeling like you're just gonna keep doing the same old things.

A friend of mine posted a quote from Warren Ellis on their blog (I don't know which Warren Ellis, but the one with a myspace) and the quote is for people looking to start writing
"...Find a moment from your life that you want to hook out of the river of time and bind it down so other people can get something from it."

So simple and yet you know that would make things just...go...if you tried it.

That made me think of how I loved Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, but that there were probably ideas? tips? tricks? that were more specific to their art. Some examples I like are:
"Make your subject fill the frame"
"Go to the relative major for the chorus of a song in a minor key"
"Use two fonts, one serif, one sans from the same designer"

I work in graphic design, photography & music and I'd love to have a listing in my Treo of things to pull out when i get stuck at rehersal, or with a camera but no inspiration.
posted by Brainy to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some music ideas:

- Change the meter of the piece you're working on. If you don't want to tackle something you're writing, you can do this for songs you already know as a warmup (e.g., put Happy Birthday in 4/4, put Yesterday in 6/8.) It gets my rhythmic creativity going, anyway.
- Similarly, change a song from major to minor, or put it into a different mode. Reharmonize as necessary.
- In a solo, try restrictign yourself to just three or four different notes (in multiple octaves, if you must).
- Play an instrument that you don't know how to play.
- Don't compose in your comfort zone. If you tend to think vertically (i.e., harmonically), force yourself to write a melody first. If you write songs, and you tend to write the music first, write the words first and make the music fit. And, of course, vice versa.
- If your bandmates/musical buddies are into it, improvise together for a few minutes. Don't play a blues progression or quote pieces you know or anything like that; all of you should be making stuff up. Try to get it to sound good.

Generally, the best thing to do when you get stuck (I find) is to break your routine as severely as possible to try to stimulate your brain in a new way. Once you get the juices flowing, as it were, your playing will be much more natural.
posted by danb at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

i'm not sure if you're looking for purely technical things, or inspirational suggestions, but here's one of the latter...

"to whom shall i speak
of this ever-enchanting landscape?"

is a bit from some old poetry by liu-yong. to me, it's a persistent reminder of the need to convey beauty to others. that is, it's not just about the creation of beauty, but sharing it with people for whom beauty can make a difference.

as someone who spends a lot of time working with and documenting isolated communities, this has always been a powerful reminder of why i need to capture the beauty in these communities and in the opportunities that are available in the world around them.
posted by n y my at 6:29 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: n y my, that is really pretty and quite inspiring, but I'm looking for more specific & technical techniques. A simple direction to follow to find a new point of view on the situation.
I'm only correcting for the future responders, I like your addition.
posted by Brainy at 6:40 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: "Think of another ending. Go there because you can."
posted by beaucoupkevin at 6:46 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: Put away your favorite tools and grab new ones. Change the order in which you create things. I find many of the ruts I get into are just bad habits that snowball over time. Mixing things up allows me to think and experiment again, rather than do just rote work.

Question your technique. On a lark, I started photo-documenting my technique. I found myself asking "now, why do I do that?" a lot. And the answer, sadly, was "because I've always done it that way" or "that's just how it's done." I may continue to keep doing things a certain way, but I'm at least trying to find better answers to the "why". Note: teaching others was also a means to this same end.

Do something difficult as fast as possible. Don't stop. This is my warmup for drawing and my cool-down for music performance. For the former, it allows me to clear my mind and try to see "big picture" things such as shape, colors, negative shape, etc. For the latter (I have stacks of v. difficult music I sight-read through), it's mainly an exercise in showmanship and handling stress; the simple joy of not quitting and giving in to frustration is very rewarding. From a technical standpoint in both disciplines, I may wind up with total crap, but it's the sense of accomplishment that is important. (And, technique does improve the more you do this.)

Find something to enjoy / something beautiful in everything you do. Even the boring stuff. I am a professional musician and this can be a tough one, especially when I'm assigned to a pops circuit. If I force myself to inject beauty into something mundane - say, make a long tone as perfect as possible - I always find myself returning to a more artistic state of mind. It also ends up making me a better craftsman.
posted by Sangre Azul at 7:51 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: Experiment with genre. If you're writing a rock song and it's not working, try it as a folk song or a country song or a jazz song. Get out of your comfort zone.

Experiment with point of view. Rewrite something from first person to third person or vice versa.

Experiment with focus. Make a minor character into the protagonist, or a verse into a chorus, or an instrumental lick into the vocal melody.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:15 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: These are general, but...

Think of two people you know with very different personalities and create something that would treat both of them as the ideal audience.

Some artist (I forget who) once said that he or she supposed the reason poets worked in rhyme was to add constraints that lead to creative metaphors. Play around with puns, rhymes, and wordplay as a way of coming up with connections that would not otherwise come to you. (But then toss the puns out once the spark of imagination is lit, lest they become cheesy).
posted by painquale at 8:26 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: Some of these are just perfect.
posted by Brainy at 8:40 PM on October 11, 2006

People keep damning my short work with this, but it's really, truly, valid.

"Well, that's great. What happens next?"

And a majority of the time, the thought had never crossed my mind. Next? Oh, shit.
posted by redsparkler at 9:44 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: red, im unsure what "your short work" is referring to. Do you have a stockpile of these somewhere?
posted by Brainy at 10:00 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: My faves from Brian Eno's collection:

Just carry on
Destroy nothing / the most important thing
You are an engineer
Use an unacceptable colour
Give the game away
posted by Meatbomb at 1:56 AM on October 12, 2006

Best answer: And my own:

Pretend it doesn't matter
Do it as if it was for your mother
Follow instructions: exactly as you've been told
What if it was at 1/3 scale?
Whitespace, whitespace
posted by Meatbomb at 2:00 AM on October 12, 2006

Quantity over quality. If you can generate scads and scads of material, some proportion of it is bound to be okay (you can pick over/edit/filter it later) and sometimes you just need to get the bad stuff "out of your system" before the good stuff will come.

Wish I could actually do that. The few times I've been able to stick with it, it's worked wonders though.

posted by juv3nal at 3:11 AM on October 12, 2006

I'm a translator (which doesn't exactly qualify as "creative" IMO), but here are my two most-frequently used techniques when I get bogged down:

1. Take a break
2. Break long sentences into the smallest comprehensible units possible. Then play with the order and subordination of those units. Then look for places where I might have mis-parsed something. Then imagine what the writer might have left out.

When I'm pursuing a craft project, my rule is "it's better to actually get something done, even if it's kind of lame, than to spend forever doing nothing, trying to get everything lined up in advance so that it'll be perfect" (ie, don't let the best be the enemy of good-enough).
posted by adamrice at 8:15 AM on October 12, 2006

Just start, no matter how you feel.
Proceed as if you can effortlessly do whatever you find most difficult in your craft.
Drop all your ideas and just make this one beautiful.
Ruin it.
Scare yourself.
Skip ahead to the piece you'd do after the one you're working on now.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:40 AM on October 12, 2006

Very generally:
- Improvise with no constraints on style, technique, content, etc.
- Embrace a VERY constraining set of rules and force yourself to work within it.
These ideas have been stated in more specific situations upthread, but it may be worthwhile to consider them generally.

More specifically:
- Play a completely detuned instument and find something that works.
- Compose on one instrument and play the same music on another.
- Place fingers on random strings/frets/keys and find something that works.
posted by zoinks at 10:26 AM on October 12, 2006

Oh, sorry, this is the latest clarification in the whole world, but by "people keep damning my short work with these" I mean, I often write fiction things that are short and people always ask things like "what happens next". And if I just make myself think about it a bit, I can usually use it to draw things out and take it a bit beyond just the bare bones of what I've got laid out.
posted by redsparkler at 9:29 AM on December 14, 2006

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