In 1928 Virginia Woolf presented a series of essays. She made the connection between achieving maximum creative potential as an individual, and having a mind (psychological space or ‘room’) free from the worries of domesticity or poverty. As well as this she emphasised the importance of a physical space, a study for example, to think, write and create.
She was talking specifically about the historical lack of this ‘room’ for women. She was also speaking at a time when a woman’s finances were constrained by patriarchal society. The essays revolutionised the way we think about ourselves in relation to the political and social structures that surround us.
I am following in Woolf’s footsteps. I am at university with some money in my pocket, I rent my own room, and have food and books to keep me suitably nourished. In other words, I have been granted a room of my own and, like her; I do not take for granted the opportunities I have been given.
There is one difference between the two of us that I am interested to address, however. My means of attending university have not come from a healthy inheritance as hers did. I am from one of the lower brackets on the economic ladder here in the UK. To be able to go to university I had to take out a loan from a bank, as well as having to rely on grants from my university.
We live in a time when every minute of our academic lives, we are reminded of the crippling debt we are being forced into. Debt that has been forced upon students like myself by previous generations and their governments. Debt that will stay with the majority of us for life. Financial stability is absolutely out of the question once I leave university. What would Woolf make of this?
Just as women are starting to find ‘rooms of their own’ all over the world, the neoliberal mechanism of tuition fees pushes us back into the mindset of money before all. Worry about money now, worry about money forever. I don’t want to be thinking about money; I want to be writing novels like Virginia Woolf was able to. Instead, every month for the next 30 years of my life I will be forced to think of the debt I am in.
How do we keep a clear and inquisitive mind like Virginia Woolf when we are forced to live in this society? We live in a deeply ingrained neoliberal world as it is. Products are pushed down our throats as we walk down every street and we are encouraged from infancy to chase capital like sharks. Now, higher education is in the clutches of neoliberalism. I am afraid my creativity will not be safe from the financial constraints Woolf was free from.
There is hope, however. Blogs like this one and others such as iGNANT are publishing young and upcoming creative work. Also individuals; musicians like Chance the rapper are setting an example by refusing to sign with record labels and instead, downloads of his albums are free. Organisations like Arts Depot in North London run affordable art workshops for young people. Free art and design galleries and museums are doing the same. Tate Collectives for example, have activities running in St. Ives, Liverpool and London, as well as a wealth of online resources. Projects like this are helping promote and cultivate creativity for a generation.
Woolf’s essays contain a formula that allows women like myself to achieve creative freedom. Today, tuition fees are shutting the doors on these rooms for a whole generation of students. I, for one, am worried about the future of creativity in our increasingly neoliberal world.