Chapter 3, “Art as the attention we pay,” explores recent interest in art as a ‘magic bullet’ of social change. Here, we identify a tension between the benefits of this for arts-based research and the risks it poses to arts practices themselves. Why do we think art has agency? We propose an autopoietic explanation that inclines towards the prescriptive, instrumental ambitions that tend to fail in both directions, as art and as instrument to non-aesthetic purposes. Here we find the arts teetering at a major crossroads, stuck between urgent calls for social agency, yet reluctant to lose a deeper essence to instrumental agendas. To this, we offer art a theory of itself that might better equip it for these transdisciplinary journeys. In reviewing a century of thinking on the social agency of art, we arrive at a sense of art as ontological agent, a capacity we seek to preserve through our dyadic theory of art built to clarify ‘good use’ within its treacherous future.