It would doubtless have been more bearable if, instead of the bitter clarity that filled his every act and thought, Captain Alatriste had enjoyed the magnificent gifts of stupidity, fanaticism, or malice, because only the stupid, the fanatical, and the malicious live lives free from ghosts or from remorse.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The King’s Gold
Jaime Davidovich (1936-2016)
Not being one to frequent Facebook, I belatedly heard of the passing of my friend Jaime Davidovich this past August at a time when the news was difficult to face. It was my third loss within just a few weeks – all to cancer – and though Jaime had, thankfully, lived a long, appreciative (and appreciated) life, I was deeply saddened and knew I would miss our meandering walks in Central Park and around his Upper East Side/Harlem neighborhood.
Jaime and I met about the same time I got to know Neery Melkonian. In other words, both friendships were recent and brief but each was significant to my outlook. In my youth, my grandfather had been someone I could trust and so, consequently, I have a deep respect and warm affection for age and sagacity, which I extended to Jaime. When we began our walks and café respites, he never stopped talking about his art but it didn’t take long for him to discover that I was in need of a friend more than a subject about which to write. From that point forward we shared conversation, learning more that way of each other’s motivations, frustrations, and aspirations.
During our last walk together, Jaime sensed I was discouraged and argued fervently for me not to give up. He believed in what I was trying to do through writing, considering it valuable and necessary. What I offered artists like himself, he coaxed, was a context that was not limited to a regional definition of self. In other words, I was able to recognize his position as a Latin American artist but also contextualize the import of his work beyond a Latino identity, incorporating it into a broader aesthetic, socio-political, and theoretical discussion.
But I had already come to a decision: to test my sustainability as an arts writer by taking a leave-of-absence. I had dared myself to stop posting. It was a bold risk but telling: I could drop out of the art world and few noticed. My readership (quite high at times) was as fickle as my income (quite low mostly)…not to be relied upon. Yet, if I accept that I may well be expendable (beyond the fact that we all as individuals within a species are ultimately expendable), what of the ideas my writing made an effort to extend? Jaime believed their merit had a professional rather than amateur value but I was already exhausted from nearly four decades of effort.
In a field that requires one to hold down a full-time job for profitability while maintaining a complete profile as artist, writer, or educator for sustainability, where is there space for anyone other than an aggressive, brand-conscious, work-alcoholic individual? In a field where you are asked to offer freely your research, your teaching, the tangible products of your work (i.e., exhibitions, essays, publications, etc.) and in a field where sex is considered a reasonable exchange for propositions as uncertain as tomorrow’s forecast, how do you hold onto the integrity and self-esteem necessary to move forward?
Don’t get me wrong: I admire and am indebted to the oft-brilliant artists with whom I have engaged. Individuals I can love, hate, admire or admonish; it’s the art world system of trickle down/bleed up economy that’s inequitable, corrupt, and debilitating – a system that promotes exploitation at every stage of a career. In such an environment, Jaime used irony to maintain integrity while giving a left hook and a jab to the status quo. He was a remarkably self-reliant, resourceful person who sustained an insightful and innovative career without blinding financial success or renown. Had I met him sooner, I may have gained courage through his relentless optimism. But while Jaime was ambitious, he wasn’t single-minded and he was exceptionally generous. He loved his family and, in spite of maintaining a rigorous exhibition schedule to the end, he spent a great deal of time with his daughters in California and France. He also took time out to encourage and counsel others not to relinquish the struggle but to consider carefully one’s position in order to respectfully be disrespectful. To continue, not to give in.
This is perhaps the more sustainable lesson I glean from his humor, warmth, and understanding: that it is important to find ways to direct talent where it can be fruitful. For my part, I’m leaving a city where anyone abandoned to the marketplace for housing, work, and healthcare, is hard-pressed to gain a living, let alone to maintain a creative practice. I’m also leaving a country where it appears to be advantageous to encourage “stupidity, fanaticism, or malice.” I plan to continue writing but, in the midst of shifting connections, impose no clear intent or expectation upon this practice. And so with remorse, to Jaime – a true mensch – and to other friends lost, may we converse by other means…