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.