25 May Bohemian MeaningReading Time: 7 minutes
What does it mean to be Bohemian? A highly debatable term that for the most part I feel is generally misunderstand there are many ways to talk about bohemians. More than anything I think it is way of being. An openminded view and an appreciation of the mystery of everyday existence.
Where Does Bohemian Style Come From
Nowdays we see the word bohemian everywhere. We use it to talk about long flowy dresses and hipster cafes but if we really want to understand bohemianism we must begin with the original bohemians. The word finds it’s origins in the Czech Republic where there was once a tribe of nomadid people called the bohemians, but that;s another story and today I’m trying to get us to Barcelona so I’ll move quickly. In the 1800’s the word found a new meaning in Paris when it was taken up by writers and philosophers to relate to population of Parisian creatives who lived alongside the Seine. Again another story that I would like to look more into, but today what I want to talk about the lesser known Barcelona Bohemians.
Less known than it’s Parisian counterpart Barcelona has long been home to an array of creatives and a long lasting bohemian culture. Barcelona is a city filled with creative inspiration. From the artitecture to the art to the floral tiles that line the streets. Inspiration can be found everywhere when you start to pay attention. The city is seeped in this creativity. The casual cafes and quiet parks and the moody alleyways lend themselves to creative inspiration, and wandering shadow strewn streets it is easy to imagine it’s previous inhabitants.
Much like in Paris the cafes of Barcelona were far more than mere businesses, they were creative meeting points and a constant source of inspiration.
When we look for the origins of the Bohemian movement in Barcelona, fittingly it began with a bar. Els Quatre Gats to be exact. Catalan for, “The Four Cats” the name was chosen to represent the creatives who frequented this bar, “Els Quatre Gats” was an expression for the outsiders, for the unique group of individuals who met there. Much like it’s Parisian counterpart Le Chat Noir, Els Quatre Gats was a creative meeting point, a melting pot of ideas and debates that formed the perspectives of the bohemians of Barcelona. The bar was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a well known Catalan architect known for his modernist ideas and contributions to the Art Nouveau. The bar became a meeting point for the artists of the day, among these Paublo Picasso, Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas. Like typical creative friends everyone contributed something to the space. The artist Ramon Casa i Carbó painted did a painting for the interior, himself and his friend and owner of the cafe, Pere Romeu on a tandem bicycle. And inscribed on the side of a painting like a secret message, “To ride a bike, you can’t go with your back straight.” Reflecting the attitude of the cafe’s founders who quote is a reminder, breaking tradition is necessary to making something great; and my own personal interpretation, you need friends along the way.
Among the other creatives that frequented the bar was Antoni Gaudi and the sculptor Julio Gonzalez. It was a space of newness and innovation. Where the artists would gather to discuss concepts and philosophies and it was the birthplace of many modernist ideas. A 17 year old Picasso even did the posters for the restaurant, a modern concept as at the time many industries were shifting into new ideas and realizing the importance of visual communication.
Piscasso poster for ‘El Quarte Gats’
‘Laziness’ Ramon Casas
Although not much of a financial success the cafe was an artistic landmark of bohemian culture and after it closed in 1903 Ramon Casas and Miguel Utrillo continued writing a literary review inspired by the cafe. The cultural significance went far beyond the business and in someways it is a reminder, some people are better at certain things than others but the important thing seems to be to follow what comes most naturally to you. These artists did not lead conventional lives, they didn’t meet up to social norms and maybe of them didn’t even receive the acknowledgment that their work may have merited, at least while they were alive. But what mattered is what they did do and they led expeptional lives.
The inhabitants of ‘El Quarte Gats’
Much like the Parisian cafe the coffee houses of Barcelona are more than a space for a quick drink. They are a social meeting point and a source of creativity that holds true to the city’s bohemian spirit. The bohemian spirt is still very much alive in Barcelona to this day. Although the artists have shifted over time Barcelona is still a city filled with creative inspiration, old bars and mysterious cafes.
What is it about sitting down in a cafe that we find so inspiring? I think it’s something about taking time to pause. The bohemians of Barcelona were not only creative but they were reflective, and this sense of balance seems crucial to any true connection to creativity.
Much of the architecture that we associate with Barcelona today began in the Art Nouveau. From the stained glass windows and floral inspired pavings and traditional Catalan tile floors these patterns began in Paris in the 19th Century and quickly spread to Barcelona.
Even now walking around the city you can feel the bohemian culture in the streets. The old cafes, the gaslights of the Gothic quarter, the stained glass and reminants of Art Nouveau. The mysteriousness of the old doorways, the feeling that there is always something more.
Much like Art Nouveau there is a sense of romanticism to the bohemians. Maybe it is something about looking for creative significant. It makes us see the good in things, it makes us see the grand and the great and not only the everyday. Essentially it makes life more beautiful. Not simply aesthetically, not only on a superficial level but beautiful on an existential level. For I think this is what the bohemian artists were truly looking for. Not aesthetic beauty but art that relates us to the world around us, to uor own sense of being.
What are bohemian values? True bohemian values are a lot more than the superficial appearance. I feel like in some ways the idea of bohemianism has been hijacked by modern culture. Converted into a new stereotype when the origins of the bohemian movement were so much more. To be truly bohemian to to live creatively and creativity begins with self reflection. Taking time to discover inspiration and apply it to what you are learning. The beauty is that this process is unique to each individual, but it’s about slowing down.
So if you go to Barcelona I hope you find it. This sense of creativity. It’s in the cracks of the pavement, the seams of the barrios that connect the city from the mountains to the sea. It is in the old but also in the new. In the richness of culture, in the curve of the balconies and the art that lives on from all the lives that passes before. And it is also happening right now. In the artists, musicians and entrepreneurs who are continuing to give life to this city, one creative contribution at at time.
What does it mean to be bohemian? Not as a superficial style but as a viewpoint, as a way of life. To live creativity. To live spontaneously and unexpectedly and to have a creative interaction with the world around you. To participate in this strange and shifting world of collective ideas, and contribute something to the stream.
Something as simple as going to the sea. Letting go the stream of modern day necessities and connecting to the world around you. In the end to be bohemian has very little to do with how to dress or what type of music you listen to. It has a lot more to do with how you live, and this lightness of being, this sense of discovery is what it truly means to be bohemian.
It is about balance. About making this but also taking time to celebrate existence. To go out to a cafe, to have long conversations with close friends and drink wine by the sea. All of this seems to be essenial to a bohemian life.