As artists, we are also appreciators and often consumers of art. We not only buy and trade for art, we also study the art of others through art books, documentary films, exhibits, and lectures. What can we gain from looking deeply at the art of others?
It’s often said that artists are sponges, in the sense that we look to other artists and their work as sources of ideas and inspiration. We soak up ideas and wring them out in our own unique ways. If we are sponges, what are we soaking up?
One of the first aspects we may notice in looking at the art of others is how a work is made --how does the artist produce particular effects, and what tools, surfaces, and media are used? As makers of art ourselves, we have a unique appreciation for technical mastery and often our curiosity is engaged on this level.
Some knowledge of art history is another important aspect of appreciating the work of other artists. We can draw ideas from a huge range of influences in different eras and cultures. Understanding the basics of art history helps us place our own work and interests into a broader context, to understand that we stand on the shoulders of many who came before us. This can also provide us with a sense of connection to other artists that transcends time and distance.
An art practice can easily feel isolated and solitary. We may connect with a few artists in our immediate circle or via social media, but this tends to provide only a narrow range of ideas and input. We need to remember that we are part of a larger art world and that other people’s art has much to teach us. We belong to an immense tribe of artists over time and distance and this understanding can continually refresh our own ideas and help us feel part of something much larger than our own time and place.
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