the cut on tuesdays

What Counts As Selling Out?

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Photo: Getty

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

If you want to make art, how do you get the money to do it? And what compromises are you willing to make along the way? Those questions are nothing new, of course — artists have been subsidized by people with money going back to the Medicis. But now that spon-con and brands have replaced commissions and renaissance patrons, the compromises have only gotten blurrier and more confusing.

Curtis Sittenfeld: What is selling out? Like … I mean, it’s almost like the Supreme Court definition of pornography. Like, I know it when I see it.

On this week’s podcast, Curtis Sittenfeld reads her short story “Creative Differences,” which deals with all this stuff. First, though, she told us a little about how she thinks it through in her own life.

Curtis: You know, like, a while back, Chipotle commissioned different writers — I was not one of them — very well known writers. If I’m not mistaken, I think Jonathan Safran Foer was one.

Molly: Absolutely Jonathan Safran Foer.

Curtis: George Saunders might have been one.

Molly: I would believe that as well.

Curtis: To write sort of little tidbits on … I think it was on cups or on bags at Chipotle. And it’s funny, because I think if I had been asked — and I would frankly say I have a lower profile than the writers who were asked — I think I would have felt confused and struggled with knowing what to do. But I think I felt 5 percent insulted that I wasn’t asked.

The Chipotle cups — which appeared back in 2014 — were in fact Jonathan Safran Foer’s idea. He had approached the Chipotle CEO, chosen the writers, and edited what they wrote. His own contribution was called “Two-Minute Personality Test,” and it’s a series of questions that begin: “What’s the kindest thing you almost did? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Are bonsai cruel?”

It does not include the question “Would you write a story for a Chipotle cup?” … but perhaps that’s a different kind of personality test.

To hear the rest of our conversation with Curtis, plus her story “Creative Differences,” click above, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

What Counts As Selling Out?