What does it mean to be Bohemian?


According to Wikipedia, artists and other creative people in early nineteenth century France started gathering in lower-class Roma neighbourhoods where the rent was more affordable. A common misconception at the time was that Roma people had reached France in the fifteenth century through Bohemia, the western part of what is now the Czech Republic. This resulted in French people calling the Roma in France, Bohémien. Because the creative types began gathering in the predominantly Roma neighbourhoods, people started referring to the artists and creatives by the same moniker.

What does it mean to lead a “bohemian” lifestyle? The same Wikipedia article where you can learn all of the above facts describes a bohemian lifestyle as unconventional, with few firm commitments, and a focus on musical, artistic, literary or spiritual ambitions. People who pursued a bohemian lifestyle in the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century were often associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political and social views. Frugality and even voluntary poverty were sometimes part of the story. The association with the Roma was also one of outsiders who lived apart from more conventional communities and who were not bothered that much with the latter’s rejection of how they lived their lives.

Some other interesting bits from the Wikipedia article:

[It] is not enough to be one’s self in Bohemia, one must allow others to be themselves, as well. What, then, is it that makes this mystical empire of Bohemia unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland? It is this: there are no roads in all Bohemia! One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life.” ~ Burgess, Gelett. “Where is Bohemia?” collected in The Romance of the Commonplace.


Bohemian 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.”


In 2001, political and cultural commentator David Brooks contended that much of the cultural ethos of well-to-do middle-class Americans is Bohemian-derived, coining the paradoxical term “Bourgeois Bohemians”.


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.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemianism