Art and Literature of the Sea

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The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer

Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea:
Some layt in dead men's skulls; and, in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,
As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
Which woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep,
To yield the ghost: but still the envious flood
Kept in my soul, and would not let forth
To seek the empty, vast and wandering air;
But smother'd it within my panting bulk,
Which almost burst to belch it in the sea.

-- William Shakespeare, Richard III


Since humans first gazed across its watery plains, the sea has been held in special regard. It has evoked visions of splendor and horror. It has provided life-sustaining riches and taken the lives of many in return. The sea is and continues to be an enigma, a symbolic representation of the forces of good and evil; of things that are beautiful and those that are beastly; of that which is human and that which is spirit.

As we attempt to grasp some meaning of the ocean and the field of oceanography, it is worthwhile to take note of the great artistic and spiritual creations that man has brought forth in the name of the sea. As you view these pieces of art or read these words, notice how they make you feel. What emotions or thoughts are inspired in these gazings? What you will find is a better understanding of your own relationship to the ocean, your emotional and spiritual connection to the watery domain.

If you have a favorite piece of art or literature that you think should be included in this collection, by all means, pass it along. ( I'd love to share it with all our patrons of the sea.

Here then is the sea as defined by artists, poets and writers. Listen. Feel. Experience.

Pieces of art and a collection of sea paintings

When I was in graduate school from 1983 to 1989, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Temporary Contemporary (now the Geffen Contemporary) in downtown Los Angeles. The TC, as it was callled, was the temporary location for modern art in LA until the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) was finished. At the time, I was living in an artist's loft with a good friend and we used to skate around downtown at night when everyone went home (except the drunks and the skaters). We spent a good deal of time at Al's Bar, went bowling at the Japanese supermarket, Yo Han's, and hung out at the TC. It was at the TC that I met Gretchen of Mary's Danish, who worked the same volunteer shift as I did. Gretchen and I spent a lot of time talking about the various pieces and discussing what we thought it meant. And what these discussions gave me an immense appreciation for modern art. I was absolutely fascinated by it. Still, to this day, I love going to art museums just to feel the electricity of some piece that really grabs my mind and spirit.

The images provided here are in a small way meant to inspire such feelings in you. However, they are no substitute for seeing the actual pieces. Los Angeles boasts many great art galleries, large and small. So if you find yourself at home one day with nothing to do, go to an art museum and study some oceanography. You'll be glad you did.

Nearly of these images shown here were found at the ArtChive, They are reproduced here for educational purposes only. You should not reproduce them in any way without checking the rules of use at this web site. Please visit this site and support this marvelous collection.

This collection of my personal favorites and are in no way meant to represent a cross-section of maritime art through the ages. They are also arranged in no particular order or period. Rather they are here for your delight and titillation, your amusement and pleasure, your intellectual curiousity and academic stimulation. May they inspire you towards a deeper understanding of the meaning of the sea.

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The Bather by Pablo Picasso
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Bathers by Renoit
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Birth of Venus by Botticelli
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Bottle and fishes by Braque
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Clam Digger by Willem DeKoonig
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Dali at the Age of Six by Salvador Dali
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David by Michaelangelo
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Deluge of the Flood by Michaelangelo
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Fishing Boats by Braque
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Mounstains and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler
Half a Giant Cup Suspended with an Inexplicable Appendage Five Meters Long.dalit.jpg (1624 bytes)
Half a Giant Cup... by Salvador Dali
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Impression at Sunrise by Monet
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In the Blue by Kandinsky
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Landscape with Bridge by Pablo Picasso
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Man taking shower by David Hockney
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Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Dali
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Moby Dick by Jackson Pollack
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Narcissus by Carravaggio
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No Swimming by Norman Rockwell
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On the Beach by Paul Gaugin
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Persistence of memory by Salvador Dali
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Portrait of an Artist by David Hockney (great wave diffraction patterns)
Rock Arch West of Etretat (The Manneport).monett.jpg (2109 bytes)
Rock Arch East of Etretat by Monet
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Room by the Sea by Edward Hopper
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Untitled by Mark Rothko
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Six Mile Bottom by Stella
The Bay from L'Estaque.cezannet.jpg (2742 bytes)
The Bay from L'Estaque by Paul Cezanne
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The Bather by Paul Cezanne
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The Beach at Trouville by Monet
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The Chase by Mark MacKay
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The Dance of Life by Munch
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The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist by Michaelangelo
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The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre August Renoir
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The Swimming Hole by Norman Rockwell
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The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo DaVinci
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Leda and the Swan by Cy Twombly
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Waterlilies by Monet
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The Bathers by Cezanne
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Greek Bronze of Poseidon (or Zeus)
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Raft of the Medusa by Gericault

A few watery quotes

Having finally received an official BA in English from the University of Washington in 1995 (6 years after my PhD, but that's another story), I can now truly say that I am qualified to wax poetic and offer these morsels from a vast oceanic literature. No doubt there are lots of quote not included here but you know what to do if you've got one: send it along! I'm especially looking for song lyrics that mention the oceans (except the Beatles!).  Here's a very few of my favorites. Click on the hyperlink to jump down to any one of them.

Buddha, The Bible, Melville, Thoreau, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Lewis Thomas, Chief Seattle, Tom Brown, Pablo Neruda, John Steinbeck, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dr. Suess, The Little Mermaid, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Selections from the Dhammapada, in What the Buddha Taught, 6th Century BC

Few among men are they who cross to the further shore. The others merely run up and down the bank on this side.

The Bible, Genesis, King James Version

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas;...
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, and God saw that it was good.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

Why is almost every robust boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

HDT.jpg (5621 bytes)Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.




Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 1955

The beach is not the place to work; to read, write, or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughts even -- at least, not at first.

At first, the tired body takes over completely. As on shipboard, one descends into a deck-chair apathy. One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone. One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings.

And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense -- no -- but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth wet sand of the conscious mind, what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channeled whelk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.

But it must not be sought for or -- heaven forbid! -- dug for. No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat one's purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach -- waiting for a gift from the sea.

Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell, 1974

Certain animals in the sea live by becoming part-animal, part-plant. They engulf algae, which then establish themselves as complex plant tissues, essential for the life of the whole company. I suppose the giant clam, if he had any more of a mind, would have moments of dismay on seeing what he has done to the plant world, incorporating so much of it, enslaving green cells, living off the photosynthesis. But the plants cells would take a different view of it, having captured the clam on the most satisfactory of terms, including the small lenses in his tissues that focus sunlight for their benefit; perhaps algae have bad moments about what they may collectively be doing to the world of clams.

Modern adaptation of a speech by Chief Seattle in 1855

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every single pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which course through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.

Tom Brown, Grandfather (The True Story of an Apache Scout), 1993

During the late afternoon, Grandfather began to question why this waterfall had hit him so powerfully and seemed so alive. Certainly he had stood before many waterfalls before but none had communicated to him in such a living way. There was always a communication on a spiritual level, but this falls seemed so alive and definitely had a mind of its own. He wondered if in fact all waterfalls were like this one...

He began to think about how all the drops of water and spray combined to make this living waterfall, and how surely they fused to make the streams before and after the falls. It was the collective consciousness of countless parts that made the whole, the grand consciousness, the mind of the waterfall. But where does that collective consciousness begin and where does it end? Is the mind only in this waterfall, or is it in all waterfalls, all waters, and all oceans? Could it be, he wondered, that the consciousness of all the waterfalls, the streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans combine to make the grander consciousness, the greater flesh and mind of all waters? After all, all water is connected; even the water of his flesh is connected to all waters of earth and sky...

This waterfall was a doorway to all other waters...Through this waterfall, through any water, Grandfather could communicate with all the waters of the world, even the waters that pulse through the veins of man, animal, plant, and even the rains in the sky. Water then was not just a spiritual entity, but a living, breathing, and thinking being.

Pablo Neruda, September 8th, 1952

Hoy, este d�a fue una copa plena,
hoy, este d�a fue la inmensa ola,
hoy, fue toda la tierra.

Hoy el mar tempestuoso
nos levant� en un beso
tan alto que temblamos
a la luz de un rel�mpago
y, atados, descendimos
a sumergirnos sin desenlazarnos.

Hoy nuestros cuerpos se hicieron extensos,
crecieron hasta el l�mite del mundo
y rodaron fundi�ndose
en una sola gota
de cera o meteoro

Entre tu y yo se abrio una nueva puerta
y alguien, sin rostro aun,
alli nos esperaba.

Today, this day was a brimming cup
today, this day was the immense wave,
today, it was all the earth.

Today the stormy sea
lifted us in a kiss
so high that we trembled
in a lightningflash
and, tied, we went down
to sink without untwining.

Today our bodies became vast,
they grew to the edge of the world
and rolled melting
into a single drop
of wax or meteor.

Between you and me a new door opened
and someone, still faceless,
was waiting for us there.

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, 1951

How deep this thing must be, the giver and the receiver again; the boat designed through the milleniums of trial and error by the human consciousness, the boat which has no counterpart in nature unless it be a dry leaf fallen by accident in a stream. And Man receiving back from a Boat a warping of his psyche so that the sight of a boat riding in the water clenches a fist of emotion in his chest. A horse, a beautiful dog, arouses sometimes a quick emotion, but of inanimate things only a boat can do it. And a boat, above all other inanimate things, is personified in man's mind. When we have been steering, the boat has seemed sometimes nervous and irritable, swinging off course before the correction could be made, slapping her nose into the quartering wave. After a storm she has seemed tired and sluggish. Then with the colored streamers set high and snapping, she is very happy, her nose held high and her stern bouncing a little like the buttocks of a proud and confident girl. Some have said they felt a boat shudder before she struck a rock, or cry when she beached and the surf poured into her. This is not mysticism, but identification; man, building this greatest and most personal of all tolls, has in turn received a boat-shaped mind, and the boat, a man-shaped soul. His spirit and the tendrils of his feeling are so deep in a boat that the identification is complete. It is very easy to see why the Viking wished his body to sail away in an unmanned ship, for neither could exist without the other; or, failing that, how was it necessary that the things he loved the most, his women and his ship, lie with him and thus keep closed the circle. In the great fire on the shore, all three started in the same direction, and in the gathered ashes who could say where man or woman stopped and ship began?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part The Second, 1834

The Sun now rose upon the right;
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food and play
Came to the mariner's hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Upon that silent sea.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We struck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout,
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and whitre.

And came in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathoms deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish, 1960

One fish two fish red fish blue fish.
Black fish blue fish old fish new fish.
This one has a little star.
This one has a little car.
Say! what a lot of fish there are.

Yes. Some are red. And some are blue.
Some are old. And some are new.
Some are sad. And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.
Why are they sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad.

Howard Ashman, Lyrics to Under the Sea in A Little Mermaid, 1988

The seaweed is always greener
in somebody else's lake.
You dream about going up there.
But that is a big mistake.
Just look at the world around you
right here on the ocean floor.
Such wonderful things surround you.
What more is you looking for?

Under the sea, under the sea,
Darlin' it's better down where it's wetter.
Take it from me.
Up on the shore they work all day,
Out in the sun they slave away,
While we devotin' full-time to floatin'
under the sea.

Down here all the fish is happy
as off through the waves dey roll.
The fish on the land ain't happy.
They sad 'cause they in the bowl.
But fish in the bowl is lucky,
they in for a worser fate.
One day when the boss get hungry
guess who gon' be on the plate?

Under the sea, under the sea,
Nobody beat us, fry us and eat us
in fricasee.
We what the land folks love to cook,
Under the sea we off the hook.
We got no troubles life is the bubbles
under the sea.

Star Wars Episode One -- The Phantom Menace, Act III, 1999

            Sir...I've been wondering, sir...what are midi-chlorians?

A microscopic life form that resides within all living cells and communicates with the Force. The midi-chlorians are actually one vast entity that encompasses the Universe, but is broken into an infinite number of small pieces that reside in every living thing.

They live inside of me?

In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians.


Living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life would not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They speak to you all of the time, telling you the will of the Force.

They do?

Some call it intuition...the voices within you. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.

I don't understand.

With time and training you will. (You will!)