Compare these two pictures and see how different they are. The one on the left is quite pleasing to look at. The cream color of the porcelain cup is trimmed with gold accents that decorate the rim, handle, base, as well as the rim of the saucer, with intricate designs. The way the cup widens as it reaches the top resembles a flower. The saucer, being wider than the cup itself, gives the impression of being a pedestal for the cup. It can be considered a “servant” of the cup. It knows its place and fulfills its duty.
The gold trimmings on the handle, rim, and base of the cup and the rim of the saucer act as very subtle transitions, delighting the soul, as the distinctive patterns reflect the transitions in life and nature. The overall presentation is refined and uplifting. Whatever beverage is served in this setting promises to be delightful, whether fine tea or robust coffee.
Now let us consider the second picture. It is a bland, sterile, hospital-white mug that is most noticeable for its Krispy-Kreme logo. This mug has no transition, no ornament, no color, except for the advertisement, and barely any shape. It looks heavy, without any kind of elegance. This cup was made not for beauty, but for practicality. The thick mug was mass-produced for a standardized culture (probably in communist China) to survive the typical industrial dish-washer. In addition to emphasizing practicality, this mug brings the advertisement for a brand right onto your breakfast table. Where is the saucer? It has vanished. There is no practical place to rest the spoon after stirring the coffee or tea.
While the first cup is beautiful and refined, the second is bland, ugly, and made to look like a workshop tool. The first cup inspires good, elevated conversation, while the second broadcasts its larger volume capacity, and its advertisement. The two cups stand as symbols. The first represents quality: It serves its purpose, is refined and beautiful, and helps a person consider higher things. The second, the mug, symbolizes quantity: It holds more liquid and is simply a container for carrying coffee. The mug is indifferent to the quality of the beverage it holds.
Which of the two reflects a more inspiring and elevated culture?
Modern man boasts of progress. However, is a culture that chooses a lesser good (the practical mug) over a higher good (the delicate cup and its saucer) really an example of true progress? Is this a culture that ascends toward perfection? Or is it rather a culture that is descending to ever greater and more widespread vulgarity?
This reflection is not a condemnation of those who use mugs. But maybe it is time to bring the porcelain tea cups out of the china closet and rediscover the cultural benefits they exert on the mind and soul.