The Art of Our Seas

Fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, seaweed, coral reefs and many more living beings share this planet with us, all underwater. Here is a colorful look at different kinds of art celebrating Earth’s sea creatures.

If you have ever spent time exploring the wild waters below the ocean’s surface, you know what inspires sea art. It’s a world of quiet, endless wonders; and one that we still think about it when we’ve come back onto land.

If you have not been under ocean water, there is plenty of art to highlight the sea’s magnificence. We have talented artists to thank for that.

Once you physically submerge underwater, the cares and thoughts of your life on earth seem to melt away. Talking and human noises drift off with the waves, and even gravity quietly vanishes.

I once snorkeled over a giant clam in the Great Barrier Reef. There were no voices guiding me toward it, no signs or crowds. It was just the giant clam and me. It was nestled in the sandy sea bottom and I was perhaps 50 feet above.

At first it looked like a brown blob, but I found it intriguing and slowed my strokes, and then recognized the outside scalloped shape as something different.

When I realized it was a giant clam, I hovered over it for quite awhile, but it never moved, and eventually I swam on. I have no photos, only memories, of this experience.

But fortunately I have Dale Chihuly’s elegant version of the bivalve mollusks, to remind me.

This American glass sculptor of world renown has created enormous sculptures celebrating the endless variety of colors and shapes in the sea world.

Born in Washington State and influenced by the Puget Sound, Chihuly has mastered unusual glass art embracing his passion for the sea and nature.

This is a gallery room in Seattle’s museum devoted exclusively to Chihuly art: Chihuly Garden and Glass. It is entitled Persian Ceiling and is a ceiling installation of glass “seaforms,” to use his word.

When you stand in this room and look up, it is the next best thing to floating among the tropical fish and coral reefs.

More info: Dale Chihuly Wikipedia.

Although I am not a scuba-diver, I have had terrific snorkeling experiences. In Australia you have to be taken out in a boat beyond the shore to get to the Great Barrier Reef. One of the boats we were on also featured an underwater photographer as part of the package. His camera was huge, not much smaller than a dive tank. These underwater photos are his.

From them you can see how real-life underwater scenes like these two below…

… can be translated into art like Chihuly’s. They bring the glory and mystery of the sea alive.

In addition to glass sculptures and wall paintings, sea art comes in many forms–too many to present here. If you live in or have visited seaside towns, you see it everywhere.

San Francisco, the City by the Bay, showcases a lot of sea art, and not just in galleries.

This staircase in San Francisco was a 2005 neighborhood project. Various fish, seashells and sea stars dance in the blue mosaic pieces. From the top of these steps is an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean.

Miles away at the Ferry Building, the inside promenade is decorated with tiles. My favorite is this octopus.

The Maritime Museum, also in San Francisco, is a monument to ships and sea art.

Now part of the National Park Service, the museum’s interior walls are covered with underwater murals created during the 1930s by Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler. Exterior walls include sea-themed facades and tile work, all of it funded by then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.

This octopus chair (below) on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is a whimsical salute to the sea. It is joined by several other brass chairs entitled Rotunda by the Sea, by Guadalajaran sculptor Alejandro Colunga.

There is so much life and wonderment in our planet’s seas. Any way that the glory of the sea can be highlighted, is yet another way to express the importance of its gift and survival.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexandria unless otherwise specified.

71 thoughts on “The Art of Our Seas

  1. I always wanted to visit that museum in Seattle. I think his art is amazing. One of my favorite things was wading and exploring tide pools, so I mostly get what you’re saying.

    • I really enjoy tidepooling too, Craig. And I’m with you on Chihuly, too — an amazing artist. Astounding work and an extraordinary medium. I am happy to see you today, as always, Craig — thanks so much for your visit.

  2. This is a beautiful tribute to sea life, Jet! It’s been ages since I visited the museum in San Francisco. It’s a great visit inside and out.

    That last fish reminded me of a character in Star Wars…I can’t think of his name…oh well.

    • Oh so nice to see you today, Deborah, thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you’ve been to the Maritime Museum, too, I love hanging out there. That last fish, the wrasse, was huge and curious, and I’m sure all kinds of Star Wars characters have their creative origins in the sea, it’s a place filled with unusual characters. Thanks very much.

  3. Thanks for sharing such beautiful art with us, Jet. There are so many wonderful pieces and I like the fact that some of them are in public places, like those wonderful tiled stair, where people can enjoy their beauty as part of their daily lives.I love the Chihuly pieces that you highlighted–there is something so special about sculptures in glass that let light shine thorough them–I love stained glass windows too.

    • I agree Mike, having art in public places, free to the public, is an important social aspect not to be taken lightly. And I, too, am a lover of colored glass for the very reason you say, the way light is highlighted through it. Chihuly is a master of glass, and generously allowed photography in both museums where his work has been exhibited. Always a joy to see you, my friend, thanks for your visit this morning.

      • One of the cool things about living in the DC area is that admission to the Smithsonian Museums is free and it is possible to experience art in small, more easily digested chunks. I particularly enjoy the outdoor sculpture gardens, where the variations in daylight and the weather add to the experience. I recall seeing some Chihuly glass in an indoor portion of a botanical garden–I think it was part of a traveling exhibition–and was really impressed. Have a wonderful weekend, Jet, and kudos again to Athena for her wonderful photos.

      • I am happy to hear the Smithsonian Museums still charge no fee, Mike. That’s truly remarkable. It has been about 20 years since I was at the Smithsonian, and when my sister lived in MD and I lived in the Midwest, I went several times a year, and always they were impressive exhibits, and I’m sure now they’re even more sophisticated and beautiful. With your love of the outdoors, it doesn’t surprise me that you like the gardens…I know that’s where I’d spend lots of time too. Thanks for your kind words and warm wishes — sending smiles your way for a great weekend too.

  4. Sea creatures are great artist. Beautiful post with fantastic photos. The kiss of the wrasse photo is really special.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the sea art today, Timothy. And that wrasse photo, I’m glad you liked it. It was the biggest fish I have ever been so close to, and a memorable experience. Thanks very much.

  5. A wonderful collection of sea art and sea creatures, Jet. Your analogy of Chihuly’s masterful work and the clam is perfect. (I also hovered over a giant clam at the GB reef and will never forget the thrill of it.) And the notable spots in SF of sea themed art made me smile. Thanks for the inspiration! 💙🐡🐟

    • What a pleasure, Jane, to bring back memories for you of finding a giant clam in the GBR as well as the fun places you know so well in SF. I appreciated your kind words and visit, and hope you have a wonderful and colorful weekend ahead.

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed the sea art post today, Janet. We are very fortunate in this world to have great artists like yourself, who have the skill, senses, and stamina to bring the brightness and beauty of life into form. Thanks for your visit and warm words today, much appreciated.

  6. Wow – what an incredible post. You’ve really outdone yourself this time! I’m too claustrophobic to scuba dive and too blind to snorkel but I do appreciate seeing the underwater world! Thanks!

    • My warmest thanks, Jan, for your appreciative words. Had to chuckle at your dry humor, which I always love. I’m glad you enjoyed the underwater post and that I could share the creatures and sea art with you today. Many thanks.

  7. Jet your post has taken me to beautiful underwater memories. Like you I am not a scuba diver however the tranquil experience of snorkelling with such vast arrays of living beings is one I am missing. Chihuly’s work is brilliant and we have had the pleasure of seeing it in various locations including Seattle. Having the underwater photos and art near each other really brings out the similarity. Loved this post.

    • Oh what fun to have you stop by, Sue. I’m happy you’ve had the joy of snorkeling, and I, too, have missed it in this past sequestered year. Even when I do go back to Hawaii (because I can’t stay away forever, love it too much), I’m not sure how the rental of snorkel gear could possibly work anymore. But we just keep figuring out the new ways of life with this pandemic, don’t we? I’m also happy you have had the pleasure of seeing Chihuly’s work. My warmest thanks, smiles, and greetings to you and Dave.

    • Yes, I am with you, Andrea. Snorkeling is like being in another world, and such a beautiful one. The Turkish coast sounds delightfully exotic, lovely to hear you’ve enjoyed it, Andrea. Thank you.

    • I do so agree, Jo. Chihuly is indeed pure genius at work. Such a pleasure to have this man and his creative teams sharing their genius with us. Thanks, Jo, always a true pleasure.

  8. What a joyful post, Jet! I love, love, love Chihuly and have been blessed to see his work at an art museum, in the White House (a Christmas tree years ago), and in several installations. I’d love to see more. His work makes me happy.

    janet

    • I am SO glad you enjoyed The Art of Our Seas today, Janet. And I’m thrilled you have had so many chances to see Chihuly, and I agree, his art makes you just want to see more. And oh how thrilling to see his work in the White House. A joy to hear of your Chihuly adventures, Janet, thank you.

  9. We came from the sea, they tell us, and that seems to explain our affinity to it. I love to bob in the waves, feeling that weightlessness. While I’ve never tried scuba diving, I’m grateful to those who have done so and brought back amazingly beautiful photos like the ones shown here.
    The sea provides food and inspiration to millions. We owe the oceans so much!

    • It is so much fun to, as you say Eliza, bob around in the waves, and I appreciated your words of love for the sea and all it gives us. You’re right, we do owe the oceans so much. My warmest thanks.

  10. You have to love the ocean and the beauty and wonder it holds. Enjoyed the glass blowing and photos. Scuba lets you visit the wonders of the ocean just a little closer.

    • Ah, I found a scuba diver and your appreciation of life under the ocean waters. Thanks so much, Bill, a joy to hear from you, and much appreciated every single week.

  11. This was such a colourful post, in and out of the water! I’d rather be on the water, and not under it, but really enjoyed the dazzling images from below the surface. That final fish – what a creature! The public and accessible art work you shared is wonderful, and once again you’ve highlighted some real SF treasures – thanks, Jet!

    • Ahoy pc! I am positively delighted that you enjoyed the underwater scenes of my post, pc. There are plenty of folks like you who would rather not be under the water, so I’m glad I could share some of the beauty of it. I’m not surprised, either, for you are so enthused and surrounded by lovely shorelines, boats, and often embarking on boating and beach adventures that obviously show your love for the above-part of the sea. My warmest thanks for your visit and kind words, matey.

    • Lovely to “see” you, cj. How marvelous that you were a student at Rhode Island School of Design when D. Chihuly was teaching there. I then popped over to see what you’ve been up to on your site, and found the recent post of your masterful Perching Crows. The RISD training is extraordinary, for your recently posted art is truly lovely. Thanks so much for popping in, it was a great pleasure.

  12. I really enjoyed seeing the depictions of sea life in works of art – a lovely way to celebrate life in the ocean that is hidden from most of us most of the time. The Chihuly glasswork is incredible. I have just spent a bit of time browsing through photos of his work. But what really knocked my socks off was that photo of the wrasse that you saw on the Great Barrier Reef!

    • Carol, so wonderful to receive your comment, thank you. I am so glad you enjoyed the post on art and sea life, and I can genuinely say that my recent visits to your South African ocean adventures had an influence on me. I’m glad, too, that you had a chance to look at Chihuly’s masterpieces. And then what a joy to know that you so loved the wrasse photo. I almost didn’t put that photo into the post, because it was technically unconnected to the drift of my theme. But I then decided it was a wonderful parting shot and that the true theme of the sea’s art was what that photo was all about, that marvelously huge and gentle wrasse. A true joy to have this exchange, thank you.

      • Nice to know that my SA post on the ocean partly influenced you to visit the ocean too in your original take on sea life and art. The beautiful wrasse really does connect well to the preceding artistic interpretations of life under the sea, and I am glad that you decided to include it at the end of the post.

  13. This is a brilliant post, Jet – combining the glories of the natural world with the beauty of the artists. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    • Dear Nan, I am so very glad you enjoyed the post. It was a little different than my usual, but your grasp of the combination I was going for was truly realized in this lovely comment from you. Thanks so much.

  14. Chihuly is one of my favorite artists. He had an exhibit here in the NYBG a while back. His art is so organic and blends with nature so well. I love the colors and shapes he creates. Love the post.

    • I am so very glad I touched on one of your favorite artists, Sherry. He is one of mine too. As you say, his connection to nature, something that both you and I embrace ourselves, is a true honor to behold in his outstanding creations. My brightest thanks to you, Sherry, for your lovely words today.

  15. Chihuly is a favorite of ours, Jet, as is the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta. We’ve walked down it a number of times to admire its unique take on sea life. Enjoyed your post. Thanks. –Curt

    • Oh I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the sea art post today, Curt, and that we share a love for Chihuly’s masterful art. Nice to know you have had the experience to walk the promenade on PV’s Malecon, too–it’s such a lovely place…and great food too. Thanks very much for dropping by and commenting.

  16. Really amazing and beautiful artwork depicting sea creatures, Jet. Chihuly’s sculptures are beyond gorgeous and I never tire of seeing them. We did do a cruise of the Great Barrier Reef and went out on a glass bottomed boat a few times, which was fascinating. The photos taken by your cameraman are so perfect. Thanks for sharing.

    • I was happy to receive your warm words today, Sylvia, thank you. You and I both love two of the same things: Chihuly’s art and the Great Barrier Reef. Gives me a smile, thank you so much.

  17. Speaking as a scuba diver I can vouch for the fascinating world under the sea. It’s not surprising all those talented artists have found inspiration in it, and you have found inspiration in them.

    For what it’s worth, that wrasse at the end is a Napoleon Wrasse. They really are big and impressive up close.

    • Wonderful to get your scuba-diving take on the sea art and creatures, Dave. And really great to know the name of the wrasse, thank you. I looked it up just now and see that is is an endangered species. A very interesting species. Thanks so much for your visit and input, Dave, much appreciated.

    • Thanks so very much, Terry, what a joy to have you stop by. I remember you showing me a photo of your beautiful daughter on the 16th Avenue Steps. Great fun to share the beautiful creatures of the sea with you today, thank you.

  18. Thanks for the reminder of Chihuly’s glass artwork. I bet it’s a great thrill to see it in ‘real life’… too bad about my increasing discomfort when encountering any city. His exhibit would ALMOST be worth the effort, but alas it gets harder with each passing year. What would we do without the internet where we can visit without ever leaving home? But next week we get to head north along the coast for a visit with the grandies… Yay! 🥰 (While managing to avoid the urban areas as much as is earthly possible.) 😏

    • I am glad I could bring the marvel of Chihuly’s art to you, Gunta. And sometimes the crowds and discomforts are not worth it, so I agree, it’s great that we have the internet and virtual tours and friends and loved ones to share parts of the world with us. And of course it’s all more complicated now with Covid. So you enjoy your adventure along the coast and with the grandies…have a really blessed time, my friend.

    • Although I don’t quite match Chihuly standards, I very much appreciate your kind words and comment, Stephen. And I agree whole-heartedly, Chihuly is indeed something special. Thanks so much for stopping by, it was pleasant to “see” you today.

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