What makes something arty or bohemian?

Handmade star, made from off-cut tongues from old Douglas fir floorboards

The use of the word “bohemian” is getting curiouser and curiouser (to quote Alice in Wonderland). Bohemian! Arty! What do these even mean now? To choose a trivial example, is this round object in our studio arty? I thought of it as a minimalist piece of art or decoration for the ceiling, but recently a visitor at our studio open house alternately called it arty and bohemian. This happens a lot, even with things I think are restrained and minimalist. Apparently “arty” means showy or pretentious. In this case is the object arty because its identity or purpose is unclear? Or because it’s relatively simple, or fragile, or quirky, or handmade, or because it connotes poverty, or because it seems self-conscious? Most design objects, whether practical or decorative, have some artistic impulse in them, so what makes one more arty than another? This is not a rhetorical question!

Christmas tree star in Ouno studio, close-up

Click below for more, and to find instructions on how to make a simple Christmas star.

Arty and Bohemian, cont’d:

Is the problem with things viewed as “arty” or “bohemian” that they offend some sort of North American pilgrim puritanism? Is it because of the apparent stigma attached to the terms “artistic,” “foreign,” “outsider” etc., or is it a class thing? The term “bohemian” was founded upon a mistaken belief among Parisians that “gypsies” came from Bohemia in Czechoslovakia. Todd Selby’s blog The Selby (also see here), which showcases his photos of the artistic, unusual, arguably bohemian homes of creative types, gets a truly enormous number of web visitors every day. It would seem, therefore, that people love to look at artistic interiors, but when it comes to their own living arrangements they prefer to enjoy their bohemianism vicariously. Is this out of shyness – yes, maybe it does take some confidence to hang a giant painting of lips above the bed – or out of a simple difference in taste? Is it because artistic interiors make their owner appear, to some, almost morally suspect?  (Note that almost all artist loft dwellers in Hollywood films turn out to be villains in one way or another, which is entirely unfounded in reality.) Do people therefore prefer their interiors a little more conservative in order to keep up appearances, to avoid the taint of moral degeneracy, and out of a fear others will think they have bad taste?

Another question: is the opposite of bohemian or arty the traditional interiors seen in Architectural Digest, or is it the stripped-down, cool, textile-less interiors of, say, early Dwell Magazine?

When I hear the terms arty and bohemian used to describe places that seem welcoming or exciting or visually interesting or sensual, I kind of wonder if it’s in any way related to the general North American distrust of art, creativity and anything intellectual that we so clearly witnessed during the recent Canadian and US elections. This fairly puritan distrust does not actually exist in the same way in Europe, South America or most other regions. Living quarters without this element are so unwelcoming, so boring, don’t they make you want to flee?

DIY Christmas Star:

It’s almost self-explanatory how this star is made: Find some thin sticks – anything will do as long as it’s regular. Place the first two pieces in a rough cross or X, and start winding a narrow but relatively strong gardening wire around it. Keep adding pieces and winding wire relatively tightly until you have a ball. Wind around a few more times, and after you decide where the “top” is, wind the wire around a stick at the top edge a couple of times, discreetly, and use the remainder to either hang from the ceiling, or flip it the other way and wind around the top branch of your tree.

This star began as part of tongue-and-groove flooring boards I had to pull up in the studio. The tongues were cut off with a saw so that the boards could be used for something else, and the thin sticks were thrown away into in a kindling pile. One night over drinks an artist friend casually picked them out, tied them up with wire he found in my tool cart, and made this star for our first studio Christmas tree. It took 5 minutes but it looked completely magical, maybe as if it might actually have been the first star on the first Christmas tree. After Christmas I decided to hang the star from the ceiling, rather than put it away. It’s made from the very same original materials the studio was built with, so it seemed to belong.

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3 Responses to “What makes something arty or bohemian?”

  1. tom davis Says:

    I believe you meant “getting more and more curious about these categories”.

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