Yes, but how does it make you feel?

It was sort of college art history class meets a course in psych. 101. Look at these slides of paintings by  the great seascape painter JMW Turner and assign “feeling words” to them. If you need a list of complex emotions, one will be provided.  There were 36 questions and slices of placating pizza as we huddled with pointed pencils and pens.


Photo by Jim Olson

Apart from being a good distraction, the exercise was to generate content for an interactive media display that will be in one of the galleries during the upcoming exhibition, Turner & the Sea, which opens May 31.  Questions sprang from the minds of our Education Department and ranged from “If you were in the boat in this topsy turvy storm, how would it make you feel?” to “If you were watching from land, what would you feel?” A mortality test hidden in a riddle, perhaps.

Below is the kind of drama Turner often created.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Loss of an East Indiaman (circa 1818). Courtesy of the Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford. Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund.

Our fearless leaders — Jim Olson from Integrated Media and Michelle Moon from Education — seemed to get a kick out of  questions like the following: “If this painting were to appear on a book cover, what genre would it be?” And on and on…you get the point.

Finally, we were asked to examine this image from the British Museum, Turner’s Ship in a Storm, 1820-1826, and write a haiku. The following 5-7-5 poems are the result. Note the different perspectives, levels of panic and optimism.

Ship in a tempest
Swept by a roaming wall of water
Perilous prospect for sailors

Fear is quite useless
Stay calm. Maintain contact. Shhh.
“Mayday. Mayday.” Null.

A dark stormy night
Ship tossed o’er the waves

The wind blows fiercely
Raising black waves to the sky
Surely doom’s at hand.

Gripping ropes tensely
Dark waters washing over
And clouds pressing down

Rolling on the sea
Through a dark and stormy night
Just ready to die

Darkness upon sea
Absent of sailors and sun
Massive the ocean

Oh my goodness, horrendous
Where did the storm come from
Neptune, Neptune – why?

Stormy ocean waves
Clouds so deep and black like night
Tranquil times are near

Ship swirling up, up
Down into light, no escape
Power and glory

And into the storm
A future to be or not
Damn the torpedoes

Oh my God No NO
Oh my God Save The Ship
Oh My God Save Me

This makes my stomach heave.
The ship is crashing badly.
I’m glad I’m off it.

The powerful sea
Tumultuous, deadly
Ominous, Godly

Dark, stormy seascape
Ship lost in turbulent sea
When will the sun ‘turn

The ship tossed sideways
Dark and stormy, scary night
Before it stopped, calm.

Storm tossed ocean waves
Dark ship’s perilous way
Clear skies beyond

The storm blew strong
She threatened to engulf us
But we had such strength

Tilting we go now
Up over waves, then down
The dark clouds hover

Inspired by Turner to write your own watery haiku? Please share…


  1. bryanne says:

    A dark watery wall
    sail, swim, float, sink and flail
    Into it I’ll fall

  2. bryanne says:

    The other one was a syllable short in line two!

    A dark watery wall
    Sail, slip, swim, float, flail and sink
    Into it I fall

  3. Wayne Miller says:

    Each soul makes the choice
    As now the funnel narrows
    Will you scream or sigh?

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