I thought I knew what water looked like, but then I tried to paint it.
There are so many waves and they're moving so fast. The shapes are really complicated and it's hard to make out the patterns.
So as artists do, I looked to other art for clues. It seems that no one got it right until photography was fully invented. We had to 'stop the world' before we could depict it.
The complexity of waves goes beyond geometry, it is also time-based. I've tried to follow just one wave as it moves through the others. I can't do it for long. I can look at water, but still not truly 'see' it.