Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The bohemian and the exile

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The age of impressionism produces two extreme types of the modern artist estranged from society: the new bohemians and those who take refuge from Western civilization in distant, exotic lands. Both are the product of the same feeling, the same “discomfort with culture,” the only difference being that the first choose “internal emigration,” the others real flight. But both lead the same abstract life severed from immediate reality and practical activity; both express themselves in forms which must inevitably appear increasingly strange and unintelligible to the majority of the public. The voyage into remote lands, as an escape from modern civilization, is as old as the bohemian protest against the bourgeois way of life…That is the real escape, the voyage into the unknown, which is undertaken not because one is enticed, but because one is disgusted by something…

The bohème was originally no more than a demonstration against the bourgeois way of life. It consisted of young artists and students, who were mostly the sons of well-to-do people…They undertook their excursion into the world of the outlaws and the outcasts, just as one undertakes a journey into an exotic land; they knew nothing of the misery of the later bohème, and they were free to return to bourgeois society at any time…A real bohème…[is] an artistic proletariat, made up of people whose existence was absolutely insecure, people who stood outside the frontiers of bourgeois society, and whose struggle against the bourgeoise was no high-spirited game but a bitter necessity. Their unbourgeois way of life was the form which best suited the questionable existence that they led and was in no sense any longer a mere masquerade…Now that the bohème ceases to be “romantic,” the bourgeoisie begins to romanticize and idealize it.

Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art

Written by nevalalee

June 17, 2018 at 8:21 am

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