Some time ago, I transcribed many of the “final thoughts” offered by the talk show host Jerry Springer; thoughts about transsexuals, mothers who slept with their daughter’s boyfriends, criminals and freaks. Then I thought, “What if each time he was talking about artists?” – Sheila Heti

1. Some of us might wonder what make a person come on a show like this to divulge their problems to millions of people. It seems sick, or we say to ourselves, “I would never do that.” But even the people who do come on this show have to, in the end, square their choices with their morality and their God. It’s all about being honest and asking yourself what you really can do, and whether the price is worth it. Because whatever you might think the price is now, you won’t ever know the true cost, not until it’s way too late.

2. A good many people want to make a living in art – you see them all the time; they have fantasies of being a writer or a painter or a dancer. The truth is, very few of these people will actually make a living in art – the rest will end up back in the service sector, waiting on tables, some might even get into exotic dancing, others might take up posts at the university and start teaching. None of these lives are bad ones, but they’re not the ones these people had the hopes of living. Are we to condemn them forever? Or are we going to try and understand that the situation is oftentimes beyond their control? They simply do not have the talent, or the connections, to allow them to live the lives they want to live. If this was our own son and daughter, would we stop loving them simply because they had dreams of making it big on the stage, or in a career that few people actually respect? No way.

3. It’s hard enough being an artist without people looking down at you all the time. That’s what makes these people act out in ways we often find intolerable. But we must understand that it is the condemnation of the many that makes them take that path. If we tried to treat them like everybody else, things would turn out differently – they wouldn’t feel the need to act out. One only acts out when one needs attention and love that is sorely lacking in their lives. I hope things turn out well for our guests, but I’m not so sure they will.

4. We call them freaks, oddities – we might even point and stare. But to point and stare is not why I brought them on the show today. I wanted them to be able to express their point of view for a change, so we could all see where they’re coming from. You see, in a free society, a person is allowed to make all sorts of choices, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else or impinge on anyone else’s freedom. These artists are not impinging on anyone’s freedom, because we all have the choice – whether to go into that gallery or not, whether to pick up that book or not, whether to buy that painting and hang it in our house or not. We might not like what these people are trying to represent, we might even disagree with them about what our society’s ills are, but we all know that society does have problems, and that it is the artist’s job to use the outlet of art to express the problems he or she perceives. We may not like it, but there it is. We cannot have our sensibilities offended unless we walk into the place where they’re sure to be, and we can’t accuse someone of a crime if we’ve walked onto the crime scene ourselves.

5. A person has every right to do whatever they want with their life so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. When you have to start questioning your behaviour is when it does begin to hurt the people you love and care about. Sure, there will always be gossiping, and there will always be people who are looking at what you do, and don’t like it. The place to look is inside yourself, to ask yourself truthfully what effect your work is having on your audience: are they free to leave if they’re unhappy, or are they stuck to you despite whatever unhappiness they may experience? Are you manipulating them, or being dishonest with them? Are you leading them on? Are they unaware of your hidden motives? If that is the case, you have to let your audience into the closet and show him or her all the scary skeletons hanging there. But if you really are doing your best to be honest, then who cares what the neighbours think? Just erect your fence a little higher and go on with your life.

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