Bohemia, USA

by Esther Emery

We thought we were going to see Golden Boy at New Village Arts. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, thought otherwise. Jo Anne was having one of those days all around, having already had a cancelled yoga class and a shortened rehearsal, so we took the hint and pursued less organized activities.

The round patio table accommodated three MOXIE’s, our friend Rhianna, actress/hairdresser/aesthete extraodinaire, and two international students, a woman from Turkey and a man from Czech Republic. Topics of conversation included, in no particular order:

  • communism
  • trends in fashion and beauty
  • the zero sum game and professional advancement
  • public vs private education
  • jealousy, sibling and otherwise
  • the half dozen shows that we’re all working on or have recently worked on
  • that speedy spider that created a web right over Tomas’ head as we conversed
  • the wine
  • the cheese
  • and Bohemia

I meant bohemia as in Haight-Ashbury, as in starving artists with high ideals, as in people “with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who live and act with no regard for conventional rules of behavior,” as in, well…us.

Tomas meant Bohemia as in the region of Czech Republic, his home country, the one next to Moravia. He made a map on the table with his hands.

Our confusion can be traced back to the French, who in the 1800’s thought the gypsies came from Bohemia, and thus named the artists, who lived with the gypsies, after a place that really had very little to do with either group.

I’ve been telling Jo all summer that I expect a bohemian artists colony to emerge out of this international bed and breakfast that she’s managing while the owners are on a 12-month vacation.

Mostly I’m kidding. I was raised bohemian, in the sense of “voluntary poverty” and “unorthodox or antiestablishment political or social viewpoints.” I understand that bohemianism exists only in the context of a dominant culture. I also understand that to be bohemian is to be an outsider, and generally, to struggle. It may be a good deal for grown ups, for those who choose it, and I guess I’ve chosen it at times. But it’s a raw deal for the kids.

Economic status aside, I do believe in the artist as outsider. If we’re to lift a mirror to society, we’d better have a clear view. Slavish adherence to any single ideology is surely an obstacle to truth, especially when it appears in that most insidious form of assumption, that which goes unnoticed.

This is where my bohemian paradise comes in. Artists need dialogue. We need safe space for debate in which mainstream and/or historical viewpoints are discussed, chewed up, spit out and turned into conversational collage art: a place where status is not synonymous with either income or public opinion, and no belief system (icluding mine) is free of scrutiny.

I’ll bring the wine.

If I can afford it.

We got linked this week by the guardian.co.uk weekly write-up on the theatre blogosphere, this week loosely organized around the subject of selling out. “Can you be financially stable and still be a true artist?” asks one blogger to another.  If you’re asking about me specifically, I’ll say, “I hope so.”  But when I think about the function of the artist in general terms, I do see financial gain and legitimate art to be competing values. (I can’t believe I just used the phrase legitimate art, like I’m ready to talk about what that is. Please fill in the blank to suit yourself.)  And the more I think about those competing values, the more I crave the commune.

Mutual benefit is arguably the only really good reason for sharing anything. I don’t have much, and neither do you. We’ll put our heads together or our votes together or our money together, and we’ll get something done, in politics or in life.  I’ll bring the stone, you bring the rabbit.  We’ll make soup.

Now, please don’t think I’m going to be moving in with y’all right away, because I haven’t discussed this with Nick. And although he puts up with a certain degree of impulsiveness, he also likes having his own kitchen.  Crazy boy.

Have you ever experienced this craving for a community of outsiders? Or do you think you have to be an outsider to be an artist in the first place?  And…does that have anything to do with money?

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