The Price of Friendship or Sharing the Same Foxhole

June 14, 2005

considered for museum

I just lost my best friend who's name I shall call Bill. We befriended each other back in 1985 when I first took lessons at his commercial graphic studio. Everything was new to me, being that I was at the time a painter and bronze sculptor and loving it. Just as new as the spontaneous imagery that came from electronic light, was paying $25 per hour whether we accomplished anything of worth or not. I was the ideal, idealistic, and only paying customer for the soon to be defunct attempt by Bill to make in a commercial place of business. Back then I was paranoid and paid to verbally quarterback Bill's manipulation of keyboard and mouse to sequentially command a final picture into being, then "Save" when I felt satisfied. I was afraid to ruin my manual sensitivity as a brush and sculpting traditional artist. Bill never complained of making a couple hundred dollars per session by this indulgent dentist client of his.  Looking back, he was my first human middle man working with the computer to make art.  

Bill failed at the graphic business, couldn't sell any of his own "fine art" efforts using the computer, and went back to traditional painting which he continues to this day, 20 years later. He continues to struggle making a living as an artist, living at the poverty line. I have continued through the progression of personal computer hardware and software, with a personal style developed along with the technological advances of the medium. Early in the digital art process I included commissioning painters to "paint out" (as in printout) my digital imagery as original oil on canvases, although also "reproductions" of the original monitor images.  I loved the irony and dichotomy, a clash of two art worlds, a threat, a revolution of what art has been, is, and will be.  So now I have  evolved my concept to this - the computer is the  artist, the oil painters the performers, and I am the middle man, the conductor orchestrating a working dialogue between man and machine. Bet this alone, irregardless of the quality of the art, could make me "famous."  Ha!

Back to my friendship with  Bill. Throughout the decades we kept a strong friendship, based upon the common love of any form of art, his painting, my digital found love, in general, living the artist's life.  I always gave him public credit for having introduced me to the medium back in '85.  But he did totally lose interest in it after deciding he could not make a living in the medium, not keeping up with the latest offerings in hardware and software.  I continued for decades to accumulate a body of works I believe to be of historical significance, not motivated to sell and "break up the collection."  I always shared with him my dream and motive to someday be able to afford to place these stored and homeless paintings into a  home called the museum.

He once commented (early 2005), that I was one of only 2 true lifelong friends, noting how friends come and go.  He made me feel special. I encouraged his creative efforts.  I really felt we did have something special and to be always cherished. I thought I had found a lifelong friend.


Now he bashes me in bulk email. Here's why-

As long as it seemed I was at his financial level of making ends meet, even as a dentist, we were equals.  I told him everything and it seem he savored the privacy granted to a trusted best friend.  He knew I was still in financial dumps even as an aging dentist drilling away for decades because of mismanagement with my attention and interest outside the practice. In making and investing in my talent, my art. Like him.  As long as we got to bitch together how life is unfair to talented artists like ourselves, that it was noble for artists to struggle, to starve as badges of artistic integrity renouncing prostituting one's artwork to make money, we were brethren united against a cruel and unjust capitalistic world. I made some of the most financially devastating mistakes in business, like not catching underlying embezzlement and management running up my business credit cards to the hilt to pay bills due - due to thief of receivables.  Bill displayed empathy and felt secure that I remained a true artist like himself,  totally screwed up when it came to money to manage a life and my family's needs.

But things suddenly changed in 2004.  I received a little something in inheritance from my deceased parents. My wife uncovered the embezzlement scheme when my high paid CPA did not.  She took over the bookkeeping and caught up with the bills and zeroed out the credit cards, restoring my good credit.  Instead of my investment only in the art career, we bought stocks and invested in real estates. We took on good debt, picking up mortgages on investment property. All this did not bother my best friend Bill as my getting ahead was as yet invisible to his eyes.

Suddenly the Hawaii real estate market caught fire in 2004 and continues this year (2005).  Suddenly an investment townhouse was up 400% in 12 months. Using the newly discovered "Exchange 1031," we sold the overpriced zero lot line apartment/condo house and reinvested the gains as down payments for 3 houses on the mainland, priced in a saner property market. I created a web page displaying the houses for myself as a motivational tool.  I made the big mistake of sending the page's link to Bill via email.  I believe this is when our relationship of 20 years suddenly deteriorated.

He has heard forever my dream of placing all collection of paintouts in a museum on the mainland, as there is no interest here for digital art and realty is astronomical in price. He knows I'm up around $40,000 in monthly storage bills and something I have to keep contending with. You know, "stop the bleeding" or the art inventory continues to drain my income.  But as long as everything did remain a dream that I keep losing money at, everything remained cool between us.  We were still buddies in art with stakes against the world.

Then he saw the houses. He then knew I was not going to end up a loser after all in this game of life, that he might be wrong down the road in proclaiming to my face that I was a failure at both dentistry and art.  Relative to his output, I am prolific as an artist. He always marveled at this, but now, he wrote in email, "It's quality that counts, not quantity." Suddenly, he realized that my active search for a building to serve as a museum could materialize into reality. From that moment, he became my worst critic, disguising insistent criticism as "what good is friendship if you cannot give honest advice."  Suddenly he mentions in bulk mail some people have two gods, "God" and "Money."  He writes to his friends abroad, total strangers to me, and send me a copy in email, that he knows "a rich person with such an ego, vanity, and indulgence that he thinks he can buy fame in art."  I won't itemize the bushel full of other derogatory descriptions of my character.  He commands that I acknowledge that my art's worth is delusional and it's time I stop wasting my money on an art ambition based upon self glorification.  Note I just proclaimed the computer THE artist, not me. I publish that I am content to be the middle man, a scientist in aesthetics, keeping notes just how society reacts to this experiment in exploratory edgy art.

Without getting into a shouting match via email, I stay silent. Finally the ultimatum comes. "Since we cannot agree to a common consensus on how you are using money to buy fame and it is ruining relationships (plural?), our friendship is over."  Oh.  "I am sick and tired of decades of having to listening to your life melodrama."  Oh, all this time I thought we were emphatic and supportive of each other's art efforts and hopes for eventual success.  Now that I seem to be moving forward, making some concrete progress with real estate as potential capital for my art career, "you are irrational and must accept your delusions of artistic greatness." Goodness, may I fry in hell!

Dear reader, you don't have to be a psychologist to see the underlying cause of this breakup. You have seen it in many other friendships; maybe this situation conjures up memories of your past.  When both parties of a friendship are of equal standing in financial difficulty, the empathetic bonding works.  When one party starts to get ahead, it threatens leaving the other behind; it places a mirror in front of the one still at creative and financial stasis.  It threatens to prove that failure in not indiscriminate  universal injustice to the artistic but personal attributes that are lacking to forge success to overcome life's multitude of hurdles to "make it as an artist."  For sure  jealousy plays a part in the breakup between artists, but disparity in dedication, commitment, persistence, sacrifice, hard work, belief, and talent all play their role towards the final disintegration of comradeship while sharing the same fox hole.


Rodney Chang, B.A. (Psychology), M.A. (Psychology of  Counseling), Ph.D.(Art Psychology), M.A. (Art)

against all odds