The ‘does money get in the way’ notion stemmed from an educational context: the sense that the (state?) school process is heavily skewed toward the idea that it's about equipping people to earn a living. Even when we do believe that there are other aims, such as developing creative facility, it's sometimes easier just to go with the flow.

This brought in Ken Robinson's ideas about the education systems serving an outdated model, rooted in the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, of producing people for industrial employment, to ‘get a job’ as a passive outcome (e.g. as opposed to running a business or providing jobs). As art/innovation/enterprise are increasing economic drivers, there's a greater need for creativity and empowerment, so current educational thinking may no longer be fit for purpose.

We considered the idea that the education process often makes everything into a career path, but also the contemporary notion that career path and life path might increasingly be converging. Or whether it's a fundamentally privileged position to assume you can make a living from what you love doing. This took us toward discussion of whether those without privilege focus on achieving basic subsistence of food and shelter, though earning a living, while privilege might remove such concerns, allowing more focus on creativity and/or self-actualisation, of ‘living the dream.’ There was some scepticism of whether many artists were really on a career path (whether in the sense of earning a living, or ‘getting somewhere’), but also recognition that the idea, e.g. “emerging”, “mid-career” was prevalent, and possibly a result of policy/funding shaping arts practices into conventionally industrial structures.

This led into discussion of the ‘impoverished artist’ trope, and whether poverty implies greater integrity; we generally agreed it didn't, but this led into interesting discussion on marginality. In part whether financial participation is an important part of social being. More generally, whether the artist is at the centre of society, or at the margins and - if so - whether just inside or outside. This might be a false distinction: being at the margins allows one briefly to hop outside to explore, and maybe expand the normal zone, or epicentre, of society generally. One quote that the artist “goes to the fringes and reports back.” A later mention considered the artist as anthropologist, inhabiting society for a period, then representing and reflecting back.

We looked further at this relationship, between artist and society. In particular, the distinction between socially-engaged artists and socially-engaged art. If a society had ownership and empowerment in its own art (e.g. the folk tradition), would artists (professional/career) have something to lose? While we thought there would always be a need for art, there seemed a consensus that it would naturally ‘bubble up’ even without experts.

We considered the notion that socially engaged art might - in some contexts - simply duplicate existing engagement. For instance, a piece in London bringing diverse people together might seem amazing, but in a more social community, might seem to be stating the obvious. Food and space seemed common elements, but led to the question of “what's missing?” between that act of engagement, and an artwork.

This led to the question of whether the art was a product, or the process; especially when it's about ongoing engagement or dialogue, this may have less of a tangible outcome. (A related conversation outside, on how a process that usefully engages people outside the arts industry may still have to be made into a tangible/showable/tourable product to register as a work product of the industry).

An interesting provocation of whether there's non-socially engaged art. This might be making a tree fall in a forest and running away just before: the artwork that reaches no-one. But we probed this further and considered that art reaching an audience isn't itself socially engaged, as it might still comprise individualistic consumption. So, the socially-engaged might imply that the work is experienced collectively. Or indeed that it's produced collectively. The ‘butt-plug gnome’ was introduced, a French work provoking widespread outrage: did this shared response constitute social engagement? Or Exhibit B, which brought lots of people together in protest. We noted that the Barbican had treated this very much as an artistic product, rather than framing it as part of a process involving dialogue around it.

This led us into considering whether social awareness is important for the artist. If you are surprised by the response to your work, does that mean you're not socially engaged? Does an artist carry a duty of care and/or responsibility for the impact of the work? Danger that this could slip into censorship, so importance of differentiating between awareness of the impact, and seeking to avoid it (c.f. risk assessment doesn't mean removing the hazard, but of understanding framing the risks).

Exploring the ‘censorship’ route, we considered what would be the loss to society if the work was not done. This seemed a very useful perspective, as it positions society as the driver for art, rather than any particular artist. If the need was there, the art could just ‘bubble up’ from collective ownership, rather than being in the gift of any one special individual.