Truthfulness Vs. Artistic Vision Striking the right balance to make a painting

"Espresso Cup on Green Velvet" oil on panel, 5x5 inches.Contact me for more information about this painting
“Espresso Cup on Green Velvet”
oil on panel, 5×5 inches.
Contact me for more information about this painting

Several months ago, I got an email from a long-time collector.

It was very polite and cautiously worded – even a little apologetic for fear of offending me.

He wanted to let me know that there was something a little “off” about a few of my teacup paintings.

The proper etiquette surrounding tea dictates that after stirring the tea, the spoon should be set to rest on the saucer – not left inside the teacup, as I often display in my paintings.

Far from being offended, I was grateful… and a little taken aback.


This was a bit of etiquette I had not been aware of – despite a profound identification with the mystique, symbolism, and beauty surrounding tea, I am actually only an occasional tea drinker – once a month or so (strong coffee is my daily drink – so much so that it practically flows in my veins).

Of course, I always strive to be accurate in my work – never wanting to create a painting that some would stand before and say “that is wrong”.

And I’m actually quite sympathetic to that point of view.

As a violinist, I can instantly tell when an actor “playing” violin in a movie is not actually a violinist. There is a graceful way of holding and interacting with the instrument that only shows with people who have played since youth. Every violinist can spot this just by looking. It can’t be faked, and it can’t be acquired in adulthood. You either grew into the instrument from childhood, or you didn’t. Nobody else cares or even notices, but to people like me, it can be extremely annoying.

Does that invalidate the artistic worth of every movie where a non-violinist picked up a violin and made a few clumsy gestures while an actual violinist played the music on the soundtrack?

Of course not.


Art is finding balance.

One of the balances the artist must strike is between the desire to be truthful and accurate on one hand, and faithfulness to one’s own artistic vision on the other.

Take, for instance, this week’s painting.

It’s one of the first teacups I’ve done since getting that email.

And, of course, while setting up the composition, I very much had that point of etiquette in mind.


I tried dozens of positions for the spoon, yet none of them said what I wanted this painting to say.

None of them had the sculptural sense of this particular design – the thrust and sweep of the line, the grand gesture, and an intimate sense of one very real moment frozen in time.

Sometimes – especially in art – there is a higher truthfulness than accuracy.

And so, I made the decision to sacrifice correctness, and remain true to my own artistic sense.

As my part in the painting is now done, I will leave it to the viewer to judge the results.