As artist's it is essential that we be constantly expanding our minds, especially where our creative skills are concerned. Whether your already an accomplished painter, or just beginning on your path to artistic excellence, there is always more to learn, and higher levels of perfection to aim for.

Study good art

We should always be improving and growing, and there are several ways of doing this. One way in particular stands out to me, mostly because it is so often underestimated, and therefore over looked: Studying good art.

By "good art", I mean work (whether paintings, sculpture, or any other medium used to convey a message) that is created by accomplished artists who have proved themselves to be the best at what they do. "Master" is the title often given to such a person, and rightly so: They've established themselves as worthy of the title through many years of study, and devotion of their lives to their craft.

Not having had the privilege of studying under a great master artist, but endeavoring still to increase my knowledge where painting is concerned, I've had to generate methods of teaching myself, and as a self taught artist, I've found it necessary [for my growth] to study works of art that not only inspire me, but are also executed extremely well. I know that through careful observation of these masterpieces, I can learn to “hone in” on my own painting skills, and benefit from what the artist has already tried and proved in their own work.

Your eyes are gates

By "Study", I'm not referring to casual glances, but rather, careful and in-depth scrutiny of masterful artwork.

We must understand that the more focus we place on observing good artwork, the more our own will begin to improve. The reason for this is quite simple: When studying art, such as a painting, our minds store the information gathered while viewing the piece, and the longer we look at it, the more we'll see. As we then endeavor to create our own works of art, we subconsciously make decisions based on the information we've received.
Basically, the art that we spend the greatest amount of time screening, will most influence the decisions we make while painting (or sculpting, etc.).

For example: Have you ever read a fashion editorial, and later found yourself in the middle of a department store buying an article of clothing that closely resembled what you saw photographed on a model in that particular publication? You probably would have chosen something completely different were it not for your liking the way it looked in the magazine, and analizing those photographs influenced your decision where your attire investments were concerned.
Why is it that millions of dollars are spent every day by large companies on television commercials? Because those companies know that if you view their advertisements long enough, and frequently enough, you'll be more apt to invest in their products. They know that your eyes are like gates, and images can be used to enter into your thinking. We should take on the same mindset when it comes to art. The more time you spend studying it, the more it will begin to show through in your own work, and influence the decisions you make, good or bad.

"Don't watch something you don't intend to do yourself"

That's what I was told growing up as a child, where my television viewing choices were concerned, and you know, it's true. If you put something before your eyes long enough, chances are you'll eventually find yourself acting it out. That can be a good thing, or it can be bad.

I say good or bad, because it works whether you’re observing an exceptional piece of art or something created with no real skill ever developed on the artist's part. We must be conscious of this, if we desire to take our work to the next level.

Some questions to ask yourself when viewing a piece of art

What is the artist trying to say?
What is the focal point of the composition?
What techniques have been used by the artist to create the specific look of the painting?
How would I have painted this piece?
What use of drawing, value, color, and edges has the artist made?
By asking ourselves these simple questions about every work of art we examine, we learn to really see, and then take from it the information we need to be successful in our own work. It's from these images stored in our brains that a foundation is formed for our creative knowledge to be built upon. After all, a good design for a painting means nothing unless you have the knowledge and skill it takes to execute it in a way that will satisfy you.

Happy Studying!