Ai and the importance of delayed gratification to creativity

Ai has appeared out of nowhere and promises to solve every ‘problem’ for the creative industries from writing fiction to creating award-winning photos to producing videos. The narrative underpinning the solutions is one of ease and convenience, but it also removes process, context and knowledge. Although there are many benefits to Ai I fundamentally disagree that progress should be defined by speed and have outlined the arguments for why delayed gratification is important to creativity in the latest issue of Viewfinder 122 – a publication that focuses on the moving image and sound in education.

Firstly, we learn through practice. It is in doing things that we acquire knowledge. In education this is referred to as active learning. To strip away this experience and get Ai to do all of the work for you is to make your brain redundant. There’s a lot of bullshit doing the rounds about how the skill is in the instructing of the Ai but let’s not confuse this with autonomy or creativity. It’s like saying you do all of the washing because you’ve poured conditioner into the Hotpoint and pressed 40 degree spin cycle.

Secondly, we develop skills through practice, and this encourages finesse. For example, when I made my first Locating Lawrence video on YouTube I recorded my audio and added images. Then I began to add sound effects for emphasis. Now I do all of these things and select a relevant fade out track. The June 1923 video ends with D.H. Lawrence declaring ‘we have to be a few men with honour and fearlessness, and make a life together,’ so I added the opening chords of ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ the theme tune to Rocky. People of a certain age will get this, and it adds another layer of meaning to the video. Others won’t get the reference but can enjoy the video for its content. The point is that producing work each month creates the desire for improvement and experimentation. With Ai you just press enter.

Lastly, it is in searching for relevant images to accompany the audio that knowledge is acquired. This month I discovered that Lawrence was reading Soeur Philomene (1890) by the Goncourt brothers. I did some further research and found that Edmund and Jules Goncourt were unique siblings in terms of literary history in that they wrote all their books together and did not spend more than a day apart in their adult lives, until they were finally parted by Jules’s death in 1870. I would not have discovered this if I had let Ai to do the work for me. Research creates intrigue. Intrigue creates knowledge. Knowledge creates wisdom.

My career as a digital storyteller involves finding innovative ways to explore literary history and tell stories. As an academic, I have introduced new assignments to modules, such as visual essays (see above), so that students can embrace serendipity and discover new and interesting facts through their research. I want them to struggle and get frustrated so that they can feel the elation that comes with the finished output. Ai removes these fundamentals of what it is to be human; we should be concerned. But, as is always the case, this is down to the individual. If you want the immediate gratification and glory of something else creating something for you, go ahead. But if you want to push yourself to the limits, embrace the process and marvel at your creativity – while you still have it.


Related reading

‘The Importance of Delayed Gratification: D.H. Lawrence and the Visual Essay’ in Viewfinder 122: May, 2023

‘Rethinking Literary Heritage and the Traditional Dissertation’ in Makings Journal (Studio), May 2022

‘How Best to Celebrate Literary Heritage?’ in Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies (JDHLS) Vol 6 (1) 2021

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National Holocaust Remembrance Day: Ruth Schwiening

Friday 27 January is National Holocaust Remembrance Day. In this article, James Walker discusses a project celebrating the remarkable life of Ruth Schwiening who came to Britain at the age of three as part of the Kindertransport during WWII.

In my early twenties, I devoured every book imaginable about World War II. Through literature, I wanted to read every perspective so that I could try to understand that which was completely incomprehensible: the deliberate, organised, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews, as well as other groups of people who fell into the category of Untermenschen (subhuman) and therefore did not deserve to live. This included disabled, gay, Romany, and Jehovah’s Witness people and anyone else who contravened the ideology of racial purity.

Sebastian Haffner’s memoir Defying Hitler was a particularly memorable read because it opened with a line I had never considered before: The first country to be invaded by the Nazis was Germany. Until that point, the narrative had been simple – at least by my education. All Germans were bad, all Allies were good. To realise that many German people were also victims of Nazism complicated my simplistic understanding of war by bringing humans to the centre of the story.

I mention this because I recently invited Ruth Schwiening and her husband Jürgen to give a talk to some of my creative writing students at Nottingham Trent University. Ruth and her family were born and bred in German. Her parents ran a farm and taught others – a bit like woofing – so that they could live independently off the land. But when the Nuremberg Laws were introduced in 1935 another aspect of their identity was made prominent: They were Jews. This meant they were denied their German citizenship, forbade to marry non-Jews, and had all political rights removed. They were forced to sell the farm and flee the country.

Ruth was put on the Kindertransport when she was three and came to Britain. She still lives here now, in Newark, Nottinghamshire. However, there wasn’t room for her twin and other brother. Her father was arrested and sent to Dachau – the prototype concentration camp. Remarkably, there’s a happy ending of sorts to this story. The family were eventually reunited and lived to tell their tale. But Ruth’s most rebellious act was to later marry a German man, Jürgen, who had been raised as a member of the ‘master race’. But that’s another story.

Ruth is as an artist who has turned to paint, ceramics and poetry to make sense of her life and to warn others against complacency. With the growing rise of authoritarianism and fascism across the globe it is vital her story and others are not forgotten. It’s with this in mind that I have been working with Debbie Moss and the National Holocaust Centre to produce a spin-off website as part of their project called The Listening Project. This will feature Ruth’s story as well as responses to her artwork from John Lewell, Kai Northcott, Ellie Jacobson and myself.

My Story by Ruth Schwiening was published by The Association of Jewish Refugees in August 2022.