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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Penis Mightier than the Sword

If somebody had a look at my search history, they may conclude I’m a cock-obsessed fetishist. This is because for the past month I’ve been googling every iteration imaginable for penis: ‘Penis shaped bridge,’ ‘penis rainbow,’ ‘building that looks like a cock,’ ‘plants that look like a willy.’ It’s amazing what lurks deep inside the digital void. There’s something for everyone.

As it happens, my intentions are honourable. I’ve been researching for the third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre: Phallic Tenderness. This was submitted by Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark. Stephen is a writer who I greatly admire. He is provocative and playful. He is also a writer whose opinions I often disagree with.

Lawrence was a tad obsessed with his todger – but not in a puerile way (although in his younger days he did write a gushing poem about the magnificence of his erection). The phallus had symbolic meaning for him and represented a broad range of ideas that tapped into his life philosophy and belief in blood consciousness. If you want to know how, you’ll have to read Stephen’s pithy and provocative fragments.

There’s 12 of them in total – one for each hour – because I originally wanted to have a ‘Speaking Cock’. The clock would have a penis as an hour handle and visitors would press a button and it would spin round and land on an hour and one of Stephen’s essays would be read out. I even went as far as contacting one of my friends – a woman of Flemish descent – to see if she would like to read out some essays about willies. She never responded.

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett with an added flower border.

I decided against the Speaking Cock because it may lead our project to be perceived as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ – a series of oddities to be gawped at and amused by – rather than a thoughtfully curated moveseum that explores key themes in Lawrence’s writing via artefacts. It may also have made light of what is a key philosophical strand to Lawrence’s writing, thereby defeating the purpose of its inclusion.

So how do you represent something as abstract as ‘Phallic Tenderness’ without turning it into a Carry On movie? My solution was to create a hybrid of the phallus and the phoenix to emphasise the transformative potential of this symbol rather than reduce it to an innuendo. I then added a flower border (for nature and tenderness) – and added a fringe filter in Pixlr to distort the colours and reinforce the transformative element. I think it works well, but I would. If you disagree, please get in contact.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust

I was thinking Mount Rushmore when I put these stencils of Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust together. This was the holding image for an essay on falsifying phallic consciousness.

Likewise, I needed holding images for the 12 fragments. These had to be strong pictures that captured the essence of each article while luring readers in. Given Stephen explores the phallus in terms of consciousness, power, union, Christ and gynaecological deconstruction, it is little wonder my Google search history was so weird.

The two previous artefacts in the memory theatre comprised of four essays. As this one included twelve (because they were originally intended to form a clock) it would have looked like we’d gone willy mad if I’d populated it with twelve phallic images. Thus it took a long time to design appropriate images.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that I visited Stephen in Hackney in 2018 when I had the original idea for a speaking cock. His essays have sat patiently in my inbox for five years. Part of the reason for the delay has been Paul, my co-producer on the project, has been too busy to upload content to the website as he is involved in various projects while also running his business, Think Amigo. We have found a compromise and he has redesigned the website so that it has a WordPress interface. This means that I can now upload essays and help with the design. I can only compare this with being given control of the S.S. Enterprise and feel as if I have the entire galaxy at my fingertips.

Over the past five years I have learned so many new skills from video production (the above video took two days to research, write, edit, publish) to graphic design to HTML. This means I have less people to rely on while saving a fortune in costs as well as having more editorial control. Don’t get me wrong, I – and Paul – would love to have a bigger team supporting us but the reality is we don’t have the money at the moment, and don’t have the time to put in for a funding bid. Upskilling is not only a means of ensuring this project maintains momentum but it also provides the kind of stimulation and variety that a creative needs to get up early in the morning and head to bed late.

The 12 fragments will be published on the memory theatre in September to coincide with Lawrence and Millett’s birthdays.