From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The term Bohemian was first used in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, musicians, and actors in major European cities. The bohemian lifestyle is often associated with cafés, coffeehouses, drug use (particularly opium), alcoholism, and absinthe. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were expressed through extramarital sexual relations and voluntary poverty.
The term emerged in France in the 1800s when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighbourhoods. The term "Bohemian" reflects a belief, widely held in France at the time, that the Gypsies had come from Bohemia.
Origin of term
Literary Bohemians were associated in the French imagination with roving Gypsies, outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of 'Philistines'), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital orthodoxy. The Spanish gypsy in the French opera Carmen set in Seville, is referred to as a bohémienne in Meilhac and Halévy's libretto (1875).
- "The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art." (Westminster Review, 1862)
Henri Murger's collection of short stories, Scènes de la Vie de Bohème ("Scenes of Bohemian Life"), published in 1845, popularized the term's usage in France. Ideas from Murger's collection formed the theme of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). Puccini's work, in turn, became Jonathan Larson's source material for the musical he created, Rent, later a feature film of the same name. Like Puccini, Larson explores a Bohemian enclave in a dense urban area, in this case, New York City at the end of the 20th century. The show features a song, La Vie Bohème, which celebrates postmodern Bohemian culture.
In English, Bohemian in this sense was initially popularized in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair, published in 1848, although public perceptions of the alternative life-styles supposedly led by artists were chiefly moulded by George du Maurier's highly romanticised best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel purports to outline the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colourful Eastern European musicians, in the artist's quarter of Paris.
Academics and theorists have been slow to diagnose Bohemianism as against the more abrasive, and politically non-conformist Avant-gardism. The most serious study of the tendency has been Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 (2002) by the English writer Virginia Nicholson (granddaughter of the Bloomsbury aesthete Clive Bell and his wife, the English painter Vanessa Bell). Her work systematically analysed the Bohemian lifestyle led by a broad and diverse wave of artists, writers and musicians over the early- to mid-twentieth century, showing that they were indeed unified via a set of commonly-held attitudes towards money, sex and relationships, child-rearing, beauty, clothing and personal presentation, cuisine, personal cleanliness, travel, and social mores.
The term has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations: bohemian' (boho - informal) is defined in The American College Dictionary as "a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior."
Many prominent European and American figures of the last 150 years belonged to the bohemian counterculture, and any comprehensive 'list of bohemians' would be tediously long. Bohemianism has been approved of by some bourgeois writers such as Honoré de Balzac, but most conservative cultural critics do not condone bohemian lifestyles. Ironically enough, bohemianism by definition can only exist within a framework of conservative values.
The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/styles in *Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge] " The Bohemian is "not easily classified like species of birds," writes Stover, noting that there are crossovers and hybrids. The five types are: Nouveau, Gypsy, Beat, Zen and Dandy.
Bohemian communities past and present
By extension, Bohemia meant any place where one could live and work cheaply, and behave unconventionally; a community of free souls beyond the pale of respectable society. Several cities and neighbourhoods came to be associated with bohemianism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Montmartre and Montparnasse in Paris; Greenwich Village, East Village and the Lower East Side in New York City; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; Venice Beach, California; North Beach, Haight-Ashbury, and the Mission District in San Francisco; Bucktown & Wicker Park in Chicago; the French Quarter in New Orleans; Chelsea, Bedford Park, Camden Town, Fitzrovia and Soho in London; Schwabing in Munich; Ipanema and Leblon in Rio de Janeiro; Skadarlija in Belgrade; Lavapiés in Madrid.
Current bohemias include: Szentendre and Budapest in Hungary, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain in Berlin, Barranco in Lima, Peru; Dali in China; Chiang Rai in Thailand; Kathmandu in Nepal; Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Prague in the Czech Republic; Užupis in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Vama Veche in Romania. In Australia, there is North Adelaide (in Adelaide, South Australia), Newtown in Sydney and Fitzroy in Melbourne. Canadian examples include Osbourne Village in Winnipeg, The Junction and Kensington Market in Toronto and Mile End in Montreal. In Mexico, there is Coyoacán, Roma and Condesa, and in Argentina, there is Palermo Hollywood. In the United Kingdom there is Deptford, Camden Town, New Cross, South East London, West Cornwall (as most evidenced in certain theatre professionals in the region) and the market town of Totnes, which is considered to be a high example of bohemia in the UK. More recently Camden, and in particular Camden market has also become to be associated with "bohemian" behavior.
In the United States, the bohemian impulse can be seen in the 1960s hippie movement counterculture (which was in turn informed by the Beat generation via writers such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac). Major U.S. cities often have bohemian areas such as Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City as well as Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C. Some entire U.S. cities, often those associated with universities and elite liberal arts colleges, may have a Bohemian reputation or image; examples include Bellingham, WA Berkeley, CA, Cambridge, MA, Eugene, OR, Arcata, CA, Santa Cruz, CA, Boulder, CO, Columbia, MO Madison, WI, Carrboro, NC, Ann Arbor, MI, New Paltz, NY, Athens, OH, Princeton, NJ, Winter Park, FL, Oberlin, OH, Missoula, MT, Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI. Other U.S. cities may have a thriving bohemian community but not a bohemian image, such as Portland,OR, Somerville, MA, Orlando, FL, Austin, TX or Allentown in Buffalo, NY.
One of the ironies of these neo-bohemian communities in the United States is their tendency towards rapid gentrification and the commercialization and decay of the bohemian culture that provided the initial attractive character of the community. The Rainbow Family of Living Light and associated Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.
In popular culture
- Aki Kaurismäki's movie Boheemielämää(La vie de bohème), based on the play La vie de bohème by Henri Murger.
- Jonathan Larson's Broadway musical and film Rent, based on Puccini's La bohème, depicts the Bohemian culture of New York City in the 1980s. One of the feature numbers, La Vie Boheme, addresses the death of bohemia as an end of the neighborhood as a haven for these bohemians, while celebrating the ideals and history that formed this counterculture.
- The movie Moulin Rouge! by Baz Luhrmann bears relation to the opera La bohème and includes many references to the Bohemian subculture.
- Queen's song, "Bohemian Rhapsody," a rock opera.
- The fashion for so-called "Bohemian" or "boho" chic in the early 21st century included a number of elements from earlier eras.
- The Dandy Warhols' album, "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia," as well as their biggest hit, "Bohemian Like You."
- Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly's album "The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager."
- The Thrills' album "Let's Bottle Bohemia."
- Bohemia is also a popular export beer from Mexico.
- The Fourth Doctor on the extremely popular BBC sci-fi TV show, Doctor Who, is called a bohemian. An example is in the Destiny of the Doctors videogame for the computer where the Master calls the Fouth Doctor this.
- A Canadian Beer is called Bohemian or BOH for short
- Bohemian Manifesto, A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, examines the seductive qualities of Bohemian style and culture. It playfully deconstructs the five types of Bohemians today and offers a quiz.
- Art colonies
- Beat generation
- Bohemian style
- Literary Kicks
- Punk subculture