“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” – Article 27 part 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This sentence in the declaration, it could be argued, means we have a duty to ensure works of art and other contributions to our collective culture remain free for our fellow citizens to enjoy. Indeed this is the interpretation of the 1997+ Labour government when the department for Culture Media and Sports (DCMS) started pumping money into the arts and removed entry fees for standing exhibits in national museums.
That’s great for those lucky enough to live near national institutions or make the effort to enjoy and be touched by the artifacts on display there. For a lot of us, however, the most accessed cultural radiator is the beauty we find and create around us, and this is found in its most concentrated form in the home.
If you own your house, you have free reign to create whatever you like. Sick of magnolia paint on the wall? Watch any TV channel and you’ll be inspired towards any number of relatively low-cost home improvement ideas. If you’re in a Duchamp frame of mind – feel free to mount a urinal in the living room. Not everyone will agree that’s an appropriate thing of beauty to put next to the telly, but if it makes you feel better, more power to you.
If you’re renting however, your options suddenly get a lot more limited. Landlord restrictions on decoration and minor structural changes (“knocking through to the lounge”) are onerous, but even if you find yourself in a relaxed agreement, it’s hard to be motivated to spend money or effort personalising a space that you might be vacating at the drop of a hat.
Assured Shorthold Tenancy (the most frequent type of contract for private rented accommodation today) is typically a 6 or 12 months fixed term. However even that can be cut short in exceptional circumstances including the landlord wanting to move back in.
Home ownership (with mortgage) has been at such a high rate in the last few decades that this is not really a major issue. However with a rising population, increasing amounts of foreign purchase of land and dwellings (with no plans to develop or inhabit) and nothing like a coordinate plan of action from our elected representatives, the rate of renting is set to skyrocket.
Faced with a rented future for all, it is imperative for art and beauty’s sake that more is done to increase the average lease length so that we all have the chance and the motivation to personalise the space around us.
On a related note, though I’m not a big fan of vehicles being seen as an extension of personal living space (the more we humanise the family car, the more we’ll inevitably use it and the more dinosaur fossils we’ll have to burn to move around), One possible future, if Google and others are to be believed, is that the advent of self-driving cars will mean we’re much more likely to rent a car to take us on a journey rather than own one 100% of the time. This again will mean a loss of personalisation. In fact it could be said this process is already evident if you rely on black cabs in London as you primary mode of transport. At least on the tube there can be art (see this article about Tottenham Court Road mosiacs). Note I’m not saying London cabs aren’t clean, functional, efficient, friendly etc – more that the lack of personalisation beyond branding for advertisement purposes means there’s little in the way of artistic expression.
Maybe, to accompany our cookie-cutter town centres, we’ll be driven around in spotless, abstract, driverless cars to and from our barren white-painted temporary accommodation and Malvina Roberts’ song will come true.
“I feel monotony and death to be almost the same” – Charlotte Bronte