Before we start making art, we look at art. Looking at other people’s art for inspiration is an inseparable part of the path of becoming an artist – young designers will naturally fuel their hunger for inspiration by constantly expanding the gallery of their favorite artists. But once we’re all grown up and focused on our own emerging style, sometimes we become less avid in our search for new art. You have less time for looking at other people’s illustrations if you’re investing everything we’ve got into making your own. You worry sometimes that looking at other people’s work will make it more difficult for you to stay fresh and original. Sometimes you get kinda frustrated with how good all those other artists are and you despair at the path you still have to walk.
But you still need that infusion, and here are some reasons why.
1. IT REFINES YOUR TASTE – Looking at lots of different art will develop and refine your art taste. You can notice this even at very short time scales – when you first find a source of great artwork (if you haven’t discovered Behance yet, go there and you can test this right now), your first impression is ‘oh my god everything on here is MIND-BLOWING!!’ and you’ll start liking everything you come across. If you keep looking for an hour or so, though, you’ll feel your mind growing saturated, and suddenly less and less artwork leaps out at you as truly amazing. Over time, this effect will ensure that your flash-judgment of any artwork (including your own) will become sharper and more precise.
2. THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN – Looking through mountains of artwork will help you see that EVERYTHING has been done already. The art world is a giant vat of everyone borrowing from each other, and every theme exists in untold numbers of slight permutations. This will help you stop worrying about the absolute originality of your ideas. You don’t have to draw something nobody has ever drawn before in order to still present an unique artistic voice.
3. THERE IS NO ONE QUITE LIKE YOU – In spite of the endless myriads of artists out there, no matter how far and wide you search you will never come across one who approaches their work in exactly the same way as you. Looking at tons of art will help you recognize your own points of originality, so you can expand on them and develop your own style further.
4. THE COMPETITION IS FIERCE – The number of artists out there at any given point who are indisputably better than you is overwhelming. Coming to terms with this will help you set goals (I want to grow into being as good as these guys), and it will also make you judge your own work more harshly. Over time you will learn to grade yourself on the global scale of art quality, by assessing the rough proportion of artists in your field who are better or worse than you.
5. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT SKILL – people with less artistic skill than you are making a successful career of it. Making art that sells is not nearly as simple as just drawing better than anyone else. Realizing this will make you consider the crucial aspects of making art that appeals to consumers, like making your design fit a certain product, a current trend, a particular sale platform, or an existing need in your ideal client’s life.
6. YOU WILL MAKE FRIENDS – When you find an artist whose work you love, tell them. Don’t just click ‘like’ – leave a comment. It will make them feel great, and sometimes over time these interactions can grow into real friendships. Artists are a closely knit community and they often support each other and share resources. A genuine kind comment (or thoughtful critique) is a wonderful way to get this conversation started.
7. YOU MAY GAIN SOME FANS – artists look at art. When you reach out to an artist about their own art, they will often feel drawn in turn to look at your own work. Don’t try to abuse this and run around art sharing websites plastering copy-pasted comments of ‘Your art is great!! Check out my portfolio pls!!!’ because that is more disrespectful to the artist than not even making a comment. Be genuine and engage with artists whose work really speaks to you. If you like their stuff, it’s quite possible your artistic sensibilities are similar and they might like your stuff too.
8. YOU WILL LEARN – looking at fresh work all the time means you will never run out of interesting techniques, styles, or color palettes to try out in your own work.
9. YOU WILL SATE YOUR HUNGER FOR PRETTY THINGS – we artists may sometimes forget that we are, on one level, just avid art consumers. Our love of beautiful things is probably what got us into the game to begin with. Art is a vibrant global conversation, and those of us who take part in it should take care to not just talk, but also listen. That’s how great conversations work best.
How much time do you spend looking at other artists’ work? Is it your main source of inspiration? What benefits and drawbacks do you find?