What is a Bohemian?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2019
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A bohemian is a person who lives an artistic lifestyle, placing freedom of self-expression above all other desires, including wealth, social conformity and status. The term originated in France during the 19th century due to the influx of gypsies believed to be traveling from Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The term quickly became generalized, however, and indicative of a lifestyle rather than a nationality. In the United States, the Beat generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the '60s reflected this subculture in many ways.

Writers, artists, poets, musicians and philosophers could commonly be found leading bohemian lifestyles in 19th century Paris. Drugs, alcohol and a freer attitude towards sexual expression were considered part of the subculture. Often lacking money, bohemians commonly found lodging in older, run down sections of town, which may have led to the perception that they were not always personally well kept. Nevertheless, the thoughtful and expressive lifestyle so free of social constraints remains a romantic notion that endures.


Today, someone who leads a non-traditional lifestyle is often called a bohemian, particularly if he or she has an overwhelming need to express him or herself through the arts. Opportunities now make it easier for a non-traditionalist to succeed without conforming to society or corporate constraints. Given talent and drive, many who consider themselves part of this subculture might very well end up wealthy as a result of their self-expressive arts. This has resulted in what some term the bourgeois bohemian or boho, who with money and status.

Often, bohemian communities will spring up in diversely populated areas where rent is cheap and freedom of expression is high. This element might even rejuvenate a community, unintentionally driving up real estate values. Some areas in the United States that are home to such communities include Venice Beach, California; Austin, Texas; Greenwich Village, New York; and the French Quarter in New Orleans. Of the many international communities, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Budapest, Hungary; and the Mile End in Montreal, Canada rate high on an extensive list.

A well-known depiction of a bohemian character in cinema comes from James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster, Titanic. In the movie, fictional character Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a traveling artist. Jack finds himself on the ship after winning passage in a card game minutes before the Titanic's departure on its ill-fated maiden voyage. The freewheeling artist meets the socially constrained Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Kate Winslet. Jack’s lifestyle attracts young Rose, whose life becomes radically altered as a result.

Despite an arguably pragmatic emphasis on money and success in our current economic era, the bohemian lifestyle remains a harbinger of something mystically lacking from a corporate-fed society. Perhaps it's the dedication to an inner focus that extends past the self to those expressions of art and philosophy that are the underpinnings of a foundation that unites rather than divides. Whatever the reasons, this freedom-loving individual with the flowing eccentric clothes, unconventional ideas, and unique self-expression continues to enrich cultures worldwide.


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Post 4

There are both artistic and practical bohemians. American bohemians are more apt to identify with the hippies and their emphasis on ingenious frugality. Living a highly frugal lifestyle is important in places where rent is expensive, and so many people living in the New England area find the idolization of hippies to be important.

Post 2

I agree with the comment that it has taken a radical new form, but there still are people who shun the moral society especially when bringing their children up.

My child has something which a lot of children don't have today, and that is an education in acceptance of other lifestyles and cultures without prejudice and the ability to make up his own mind on certain things that most "moralists" would deem unsuitable for children to know about.

Many adults have looked upon me as a bad mother until i have challenged them to have a conversation with my son. They meet a child who understands different cultures, etc., and knows that prejudice should have no place in modern society.

There is now a growing "movement" of parents who are in a way bringing their children up in a Bohemian lifestyle. It's still here and hopefully will lead to a society of better adults in the near future.

Post 1

Bohemianism has altered radically. Today's bohemians are usually the offspring of the wealthy and can thus afford to play at being bohemian while getting subbed from mum and dad to pay the exorbitant rent in those areas of a city that are "happening". Bohemianism today is just a big lifestyle pose undertaken by those who can afford it.

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