Impact of Bohemianism in New Media Design

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We live in an age where consumerism and technology dominate our lives. Almost everyone has a laptop or a cellphone, everyone aims to get the latest furniture designs, the best branded clothes. We have …

We live in an age where consumerism and technology dominate our lives. Almost everyone has a laptop or a cellphone, everyone aims to get the latest furniture designs, the best branded clothes. We have to wonder, in the process of succumbing to mainstream society are we losing our identity?
So far, in every era, bohemians would appear when there is a need for change. They would shake society up with their bold, innovative and often controversial ideas, and eventually fade away until their necessity rises again.
However, is it possible to be bohemian at all in this modern era? When consumerism has reached massive heights, does bohemianism still exist in this world? And if so, how does it influence the modern day design and lifestyle?

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  • 1. Module: Sociology of Design Assignment 1: Impact of Bohemianism in New Media Design M.Des 1.1 Name: Harshal Desai Lecturers: Dr Kelvin Lee & Arabella Pasquette Date of Submission 7/25/2011 Word Count: 3292
  • 2. ABSTRACT We live in an age where consumerism and technology dominate our lives. Almost everyone has a laptop or a cellphone, everyone aims to get the latest furniture designs, the best branded clothes. We have to wonder, in the process of succumbing to mainstream society are we losing our identity? So far, in every era, bohemians would appear when there is a need for change. They would shake society up with their bold, innovative and often controversial ideas, and eventually fade away until their necessity rises again. However, is it possible to be bohemian at all in this modern era? When consumerism has reached massive heights, does bohemianism still exist in this world? And if so, how does it influence the modern day design and lifestyle? We conduct our research to find out.
  • 3. TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction .............................................................................................................................. 3 Defining A “Bohemian” .......................................................................................................... 5 Origins of the word “Bohemian” ........................................................................................ 5 Understanding the BOHEMIAN MIND ................................................................................ 7 Types of Bohemians ............................................................................................................. 9 Dandies .............................................................................................................................. 9 Gypsies............................................................................................................................... 9 Beats................................................................................................................................... 9 Zen ...................................................................................................................................... 9 Nouveau ............................................................................................................................ 9 GLOBALIZATION OF BOHEMIAN CULTURE ........................................................................... 10 First Generation: 1820 - 1840............................................................................................. 10 Second generation: 1850 - 1900 ...................................................................................... 10 Third Generation: 1900 - 1940 ........................................................................................... 11 Fourth Generation: 1950 - 1970 ........................................................................................ 11 Fifth Generation: 1997 – now............................................................................................ 11 Bohemianism in art ................................................................................................................ 12 Influence of bohemian values in New Media Design ...................................................... 14 Conclusion .............................................................................................................................. 21 Works Cited ............................................................................................................................ 22 IMAGE REFERENCES ............................................................................................................... 23
  • 4. INTRODUCTION After the era of Romanticism, France made its transition towards modernism, creating a consumerist society. Amidst that transitional phase, a group of people sought to question the ideologies of the new world. They defied traditional norms, challenging conventional rules of living in society. They did not succumb to social pressure and stuck to their beliefs and their avant-garde lifestyle. They were the Bohemians. Laren Stover, renowned author, described bohemians as radical, revolutionary, provocative, “gracefully volatile”. They immersed themselves in the world of literature, paintings, music and performance arts. They loved to travel and refused to let the materialistic possessions of society chain them down. (Stover, 2004) In the modern world, it is quite rare to find a true bohemian. However, there is a little bit of „bohemian‟ in all of us, albeit with a lot of materialistic possessions than necessary. However, the term “Bohemian” is not just living an alternative lifestyle; it has become a trend. Interior design industries have an entire category of products marked as „Bohemian style‟. Fashion design periodically keeps bringing up the bohemian style of clothing, referring to it as Boho-Chic. How much of these trends derive from the actual bohemian culture? Is it possible to be bohemian at all in this modern era? Our studies seek out an answer.
  • 5. This paper will explore the origins of the Bohemian culture, delving deep into the mind of classic bohemian values and beliefs; the globalization of this culture and finally, a comparison of the late 19th century design and ideologies v/s the ones of the recent 21st century designs. We will discuss how bohemianism influences New Media Design today, and to what extent does it exert its influence. Towards the end, we aim to understand whether true bohemian values still live on or are the words solely used to sell products in the market. Do bohemians really exist today or is it a world of bohemian imitators.
  • 6. DEFINING A “BOHEMIAN” It is an alternative, almost avant-garde form of living where the people seldom focused on materialistic possessions. They concentrated on the creative lifestyle, often spending a major portion of their time writing poetry, composing music or creating art. To define a bohemian is not an easy task, and over the century, several definitions have surfaced. Some defined bohemians as eccentric rebels (Walker, 2011), troublemakers, vagabonds. Others associated the term in a positive aspect, calling them free thinkers, innovators, trendsetters, romantics In truth, bohemianism was a way of life in which the primary goal was to stand apart from the conformity of society, and dedicate their life to the creative arts. ORIGINS OF THE WORD “BOHEMIAN” The earliest origins of the word came from France where “Bohémien”, meaning gypsy, was a term used to describe the Romani immigrants of France who migrated from Bohemia. Bohemianism surfaced in the late 19th century in reference to the non-traditional style of life of the various creative in that era. Back then, the term was almost derogatory as it represented the anti-establishment; deliberately choosing a nonconformist lifestyle. Bohemianism rose to popularity and fame in early 1845 due to Henri Murger, a bohemian performance artist who wrote down his entries in a journal named Scenes
  • 7. of a Bohemian life( Scénes de la vie de bohéme). The journal described the daily life of Bohemian artists and their eccentric idealisms. Figure 1: Excerpt from Scenes de la Vie de Bohemei It was such an incredible success that it inspired a musical opera based on the culture (Puccini‟s La Bohéme) and even received a mention in Thackary‟s Vanity Fair. (Sturgis, Christiansen, Oliver, & Wilson, 2006, p. 88) In 1862, a popular British publication, the “Westminster Review” officially defined a bohemian as Simply an artist or litterateur who, consciously or unconsciously secedes from conventionality in life and in art. (Online Etymology Dictionary)
  • 8. Bohemians are basically, outlaws of civilization. Their existence continues to this day simply because they are the “ultimate elitists” (Stover, Bohemian Manifesto: A field guide to living on the edge, 2004). By defying society and living on their terms, they change the perspectives of people around them, influencing them to question their current bourgeois lifestyles. UNDERSTANDING THE BOHEMIAN MIND Being Bohemian does not mean wearing odd clothes, living a difficult life and constantly complaining about the government and society. It is an endless crusade, a lifestyle choice that resurfaces to counterattack the bourgeois society as and when necessary. It is an inherent desire for independence and artistic creativity to flow freely. Bohemianism is an attitude, it is an aspiration to break apart from the norms and reconnect with nature. Bohemian lifestyle has been the subject of interest for many authors over the years. Bohemians in general, do not like routine… the mundane lifestyle of the common public. They loathe authority and have no need for fancy possessions. Bohemians feel alive through observing life, experiencing its wonders and recreating them into their arts as opposed to society, which gains contentment through consumerism. They drink absinthe, discussing their art openly, and freely exploring sexuality and romance. Bohemians did not just make art in their life, the made art OF their life. (Nicholson, 2005) A bohemian‟s perspective is unique, finding poetry and mysticism in the simplest things such as the glow of a street lamp or the colours of soap bubbles. If their clothes rip, bohemians will not go out and just buy something new, they instead see
  • 9. an opportunity to experiment with different fabric and color, a potential to create something off-beat and different. Bohemians are passionate about salvaging, reinventing, transmuting and crafting art from the objects that others would not consider valuable. (Stover, Bohemian Psychology, 2004) Bohemians like creating a warm and beautiful environment just like the bourgeois society, but they do it through their creativity. They rarely have a fixed job, often considering “work” as having to sell their paintings or sculptures. They loathed the classic nine-to-five jobs, finding them very restrictive and mundane for their creative pursuits. Modern day bohemians are often freelance, self-employed individuals. They may not earn much, but they take comfort in having free time to read, draw, and explore the intricate wonders of life. According to Laren Stover, the three main aspects of a Bohemian psyche are Courage, Audacity and Revolt. It takes courage to give up traditional norms and live a life outside the consumerist culture. It is the will to be true to you no matter what the cost. Audacity is the “shock” aspect of bohemian art, the nerve to make controversial artwork and display it to the world. Revolt is something that is second nature for bohemians. It can be something simple as not wearing formal business attire to sparking off entire revolutions (as was the case of the surrealistic DADA movement) Overall, bohemians are the front-runners of change. They are the first ones to introduce new trends into society, make revolutionary advancements in art and lifestyle. Simply put, Bohemians are revolutionaries who change the world.
  • 10. TYPES OF BOHEMIANS After thoroughly understanding what it means to be Bohemian, it is apparent there have been hundreds of prominent „bohemian‟ figures over the last two hundred years. Stover researched into their lifestyles and managed to come up with five generic categories of bohemians. DANDIES Usually broke, but pretend to be rich by purchasing and exhibiting valuable items GYPSIES The traditional wanderers, often known as hippies, well known for their poetry and music BEATS Also wanderers, but more focused on art and painting. ZEN An extension of the Beats, focusing on the spiritual aspect of life rather than the artistic view like their counterparts. NOUVEAU Rich Bohemians who hold on to their materialistic possessions and try to live by bohemian ideals in terms of freedom and art. These are not set definitions and quite often, there are hybrids. Bohemians can never fall under any classic stereotype as they constantly evolve with time. (Stover, 2004)
  • 11. GLOBALIZATION OF BOHEMIAN CULTURE Bohemian was technically a counter-culture, and like all counter-cultures in history, they followed a cyclic process. At first, they were too radical and rejected by society. Eventually the trend picks up, causing a shift where people who were strongly against it, now willingly follow the beliefs. This is what happened when Bohemian culture was reborn in plays all over Paris, and again as the Hippie movement in America etc. We will go through a quick timeline pointing out the important stages that allowed bohemian culture to become a global phenomenon. FIRST GENERATION: 1820 - 1840 It began with Henri Murger in the early 1840s when he jotted down the experiences of his life and created the work, Scénes de la vie bohéme. While this work inspired many musicals and plays for the future, currently bohemian culture was just taking its first steps into the mainstream. SECOND GENERATION: 1850 - 1900 As Bohemian culture picked up popularity, its principles intrigued many people and they began to incorporate them in their lifestyles. The most notable result came from Paris where Giacomo Puccini created a musical opera named La Bohéme, inspired from Henri Murger‟s original work. Unfortunately, the impact did not last long and the trend began to fade, and as the country descended into World War I, there was no time to enjoy the arts, at least for a while.
  • 12. THIRD GENERATION: 1900 - 1940 Bohemian culture resurfaced in London in the 1900s, having many similarities with its French counterpart. However, one major difference was that it focused solely on the men. Women were more submissive, to change their roles and beliefs in London was frowned upon, and so bohemianism became a predominately-male oriented culture in this era. FOURTH GENERATION: 1950 - 1970 This generation, infamously known as the Beat movement first surfaced in New York City. Its origins were similar to Henri Murger, starting as just a small group in the early 1950s, with the trend eventually picking up speed and popularity. This generation was dominant in terms of producing literary work and eventually spun off to give rise to the hippies‟ subculture in the 1960s. However, hippies are more of a trend as they mimicked the original bohemian ideals and philosophies, borrowing their style of fashion. While bohemianism was a lifestyle choice, hippie culture gained popularity more on the charm of being “cool”. FIFTH GENERATION: 1997 – NOW Bohemianism resurfaced again and finally took its first steps in becoming a global phenomenon with the release of the new musical, “Rent”. The storyline was heavily inspired by Puccini‟s La Bohéme and many of the characters remained true to Henri Murger‟s original description of the bohemian lifestyle. (Hopf, Kogan, & Brown, 2001)
  • 13. BOHEMIANISM IN ART True Bohemians were very enthusiastic of the basics of design, paying special attention to color, lighting, patterns and textures. They loved taking inspirations from life. For them, life was a form of art itself, and they tried to incorporate it within their designs. They are not afraid to let their creativity run wild, finding out ways to make the most mundane day-to-day objects and perspectives into something artistic. Pablo Picasso, a famous artist, painter, and could be described as a bohemian too, quoted “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of every day life” Bohemians did not make art simply to sell it. For them, it was way to invigorate their life. They made art because they loved it, and did not let other people‟s opinions influence their artistic tendencies. Art was life, and life was art for a bohemian. Take note that bohemians did not consider crafts as a different aspect. Everything from literature to painting to creating sculptures is “art”, and the entire world is a giant medium. A bohemian will eventually use up any surface that can be painted on, scribbled, modified, or added upon. Laren stover mentioned humorously in her book that it is unwise to leave a bohemian unattended at home for long hours because one might end up with odd items all over the house. (Stover, 2004) Bohemians challenge the conventional form of art. They like to be motivated, exclusive, and bizarre. They love art that shocks people, and strongly support such artists, until of course their works reach mainstream media. Of course, this does not mean bohemians will back up any controversial work of art. There has to be an underlying poetry to it, or an inspiration derived from life…something that stands out.
  • 14. In contrast, bohemians also valued romanticized art. Many bohemians admire poetic compositions of frost on a window or dust on the frame of a painting. Famous musical "masterpieces” often involved talking about personal lifestyles, describing their inspiration to create a table out of an old door. Overall, bohemian art means to question, shock and inspire. If it was not breaking traditional rules, causing controversy and making society wonder what they were looking at then the work was just not good enough. (Nicholson, 2005)
  • 15. INFLUENCE OF BOHEMIAN VALUES IN NEW MEDIA DESIGN We discussed about the bohemian psyche and artistic values earlier and find out that the field, New Media Design, is very much bohemian in nature….at least in theory. The very name, “New” media design implies that artists within the industry come up with innovative ways to create and show art. However, that is only one aspect of bohemian values. As mentioned earlier, bohemian art inspires shocks and questions the traditional style of art. Often new media designers these days are trend oriented. One might come up with something innovative, and then everyone follows through making variations of the same art. You can see influences of that within the fashion and interior design industries too. In theory, there are bohemian values within many designers. However, for this report, we are talking strictly about those who exhibit the most “bohemian” style of art. Many multimedia designers have revolutionized the industry by creating products and design that is revolutionary. For instance, British Designer Jonathan Ive, a humble man who revolutionized the Apple iOS and creator of the iPod could be bohemian. In an interview with BusinessWeek, Jonathan stated that most of the design behind his products represented himself, “chic, elitist and with a Euro bent”. He wanted to get rid of the giant, bulky CD and cassette players that were overly bulky and hideous. Considering that music was so beautiful, the object emanating music should match that tendency, and thus came the first generation iPod, a music player with style.
  • 16. Ive quoted, “It’s the inquisitiveness, the sense of exploration and being excited to appear wrong because only then you will have discovered something new” Ive qualifies as a bohemian in terms of his design sense simply because his goal was to design what he considered beautiful and try to sell the idea. He was not afraid of failure and continued deriving inspiration by the process of observation and necessity. (Burrows, 2006) Other notables would include Joshua Davis who heavily focused on patterns and repeating textures in his design, derived most of his inspiration from the natural colours in life. Most of his designs incorporate some form of floral elements to show his passion for nature, and he loved using various media as his artistic canvas, be it shoes, posters, billboards, bags, chinaware, windowpanes, or interactive films. Figure 2: Josha Davis' interactive art and product designii
  • 17. Davis explains his first inspiration came from the complexity of a snowflake and he incorporated the style, adding color to it to make his own style which he coined “dynamic abstraction”. He definitely incorporates a bohemian‟s attention to detail in terms of his patterns and while his work has often been labelled as weird. However, that does not stop Joshua from creating more kaleidoscope-styled art. In his own words, “I’ve always done kind of weird, strange things, and that’s what I get paid for: to do weird, strange things” Whether he knows it or not Joshua follows most of the bohemian principles. He continues to adhere to the belief of being different and inspirational in terms of his art. (Malmberg) However, can you truly consider these artists as actual bohemians? For that matter, can anyone in this era be a true bohemian? With technology on the rise, the world has become a massive follower of consumerism. So artists who have a conventional job or use technology to create their artwork, are they bohemian? The answer is yes and no. As long as they follow the primary values of bohemian culture, set themselves apart from the crowd and retain their creative individuality, they are bohemian.
  • 18. Many artists however, get a bit too consumed with consumerism and tend to design art strictly for its sale value. That is not creativity. That is conforming to traditional standards, avoiding risk and for a bohemian that is as good as being faceless. Jonathan Ive and Joshua Davis may have started out with bohemian values, but you have to wonder whether their current sources of inspiration are derived from life or from the sole prospect of earning more money. Laren Stover, an author whom we have referenced quite a lot by now, classified bohemians into five types. As the eras changed, we could classify the modern multimedia designers under a sixth category… The Digital Bohemian: Artists who incorporate consumerism to their advantage and still adhere to the beliefs of the traditional bohemians in terms of design and lifestyle. Going digital just enhanced the bohemian way of life by allowing us to mix and match ideas on a grander scale, removing almost all limitations. It is simply taking art to a new level. A computer does not make one bohemian just as a paintbrush did not make one bohemian. As long as you stick to your own beliefs, that is what counts most. This does not mean classic bohemia is dead. Quite the contrary, it is still making headlines today, and very much in relevance with the field of “new media” One prime example was the iLight event at Marina Bay in Singapore. It was a form of installation art using all forms of light, a means to promote sustainable alternatives. One particular exhibit stood out from the rest as being classically bohemian with a modern day twist.
  • 19. Figure 3: Human Tiles, iLight Marina Bayiii Human Tiles, by Ocubo had a simple concept. They took a video camera, put it on one side of the road, connected it to a projector and let it display on the other side where a fake wall was constructed. The projector had a customized lens that converted everything the camera viewed, into tiled patterns. Whether Ocubo was aware of the bohemian implications or not is a mystery. However, what they did create was live art. A display that mutated with its environment recreating it into wonderful patterns reflecting life. By paying specific attention to the movement of the people, the colors of their clothing, their actions, it
  • 20. made people stop in their tracks and lure them to interact with the art. They were shocked to see the changes happening at first, making them backtrack, question, wonder, and slowly try to experiment around by waving their hands, jumping, walking closer to the screen, further away etc. (Human Tiles: iLight Marina Bay) Truly bohemian indeed. One of the more recent examples comes to mind of a „new media‟ designer/performance artist by the name Iepe Rubingh. In an interview with Elizabeth Haggarty, a reporter from Toronto Star, Rubingh said he was not a painter as such, but was inspired to paint reality on a vast scale. He had a truly radical idea, one that served his goal of wanting to create his “art”, shock and awe the public, and it earned him ten days in jail too. After carefully planning for weeks, mixing and testing out paint to ensure the safety of what he was planning to do, he finally unleashed over 40 litres of different coloured paint in a busy intersection in berlin and Tokyo, with the help of 60 anonymous people. It was only a matter of seconds before the criss-crossing cars painted a wonderful picture of their trails on the road. Figure 4: Live Painting traffic in Berliniv
  • 21. While this stunt was mildly tolerated in berlin, it was repeating the feat in Tokyo that got Rubingh into jail for ten days. Nevertheless, that did not stop him from doing similar events elsewhere. He stuck to his principles and continues forward with his eccentric style. (Haggarty, 2011)
  • 22. CONCLUSION It is quite strange to see many bohemian tendencies popping up in people who may not even know they have them. It is almost a subconscious idea, embedded within our brains. After the thorough research, we have found a few bohemian tendencies within ourselves too. Bohemianism is an essential part of life. It will never die out. While bohemianism may evolve with the discovery of new technology, their lifestyle and art form continue to live on. It is actually one aspect of a loop. Bohemianism and Consumerism are latched into an odd symbiotic relationship where one simply cannot exist without the other. It is the desire to stand out from consumerist values that inspires bohemians to push forward in finding new ways of design and lifestyle, while it is the consumerists who eventually adopt the bohemian lifestyle and market it, which makes it no longer unique, driving bohemians to come up with something new again. It is a never-ending cycle of innovation and imitation. In terms of new media design, or any industry in general, there will always be a need to stand out and create something unique. It which will eventually shock the masses because it is not what they are accustomed to and finally accept it once it is advertised by mainstream media, causing things to settle down…before the desire to be different and innovative rises up again. Bohemianism and Consumerism will always bring change to the world, with bohemians being the harbingers of that change.
  • 23. WORKS CITED (n.d.). Retrieved 19 July, 2011, from Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Bohemian Burrows, P. (25 September, 2006). Who is Jonathan Ive? Retrieved 21 July, 2011, from BusinessWeek: http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/06_39/b4002414.htm ?chan=gl Haggarty, E. (18 July, 2011). Painting reality in Berlin. Retrieved 23 July, 2011, from The Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1026659 Hopf, C., Kogan, L., & Brown, R. (May, 2001). Evolution of Bohemia. Retrieved 20 July, 2011, from Bohemianism and Counterculture: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255s01/boheme/welcome.html Human Tiles: iLight Marina Bay. (n.d.). Retrieved 22 July, 2011, from iLight Marina Bay: http://www.ilightmarinabay.sg/light/4-light-walk/25-human-tiles Malmberg, E. (n.d.). Joshua Davis: Infinitely interesting. Retrieved 22 July, 2011, from Apple.com: http://www.apple.com/pro/profiles/joshuadavis/ Nicholson, V. (2005). Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939. New York: HarperCollins. Stover, L. (2004). Bohemian Manifesto: A field guide to living on the edge. New York: Bulfinch Press. Stover, L. (2004). Bohemian Psychology. In L. Stover, Bohemian Manifesto: A field guide to living on the edge (pp. 12-26). New york: Bulfinch Press.
  • 24. Sturgis, A., Christiansen, R., Oliver, L., & Wilson, M. (2006). Bohemia. In Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century (p. 88). London: National Gallery Company Limited. Walker, A. (11 March, 2011). What is Bohemian? Retrieved 19 July, 2011, from BBC NEWS MAGAZINE: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12711181 IMAGE REFERENCES Excerpt from Scenes de la Vie de Boheme Retrieved 24 July, 2011 from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/bohem/tscenes.html i Joshua Davis‟ interactive work and product design. Retrieved 24 July, 2011 from http://www.joshuadavis.com ii Human Tiles, iLight Marina Bay Retrieved 24 July, 2011 from http://www.ilightmarinabay.sg/light/4-light-walk/25-human-tiles iii Live Painting traffic in Berlin. Retrieved on 24 July, 2011 from http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1026659 iv