Importance of ‘looking’ at the work of other artists

As I am writing this post at the end of the Level 1 Course for Painting, it is interesting to look back and see how important it has been to take the time to look and experience the work of other artists. This is sometimes very hard to do during the course when the demands of the practical exercises and assignments are very time-consuming and you are struggling to understand and acquire the skills needed. Because this is a distance-learning course, you spend most of the time alone with only the occasional contact with the tutor or fellow students.  The world that artists inhabit can seem very remote from what you are doing and therefore it is difficult to see yourself as part of it. But you are part of that world, if, simply through the struggles and frustrations, you are able to find a voice which is all your own to express your ideas and individuality through whatever medium seems right.

Looking at my own experience over the past year of studying watercolour, I have had the opportunity to see amazing exhibitions.  These are all written up with illustrations in my Learning Log so it is enough just to list here…..

CONSTABLE, GAINSBOROUGH, TURNER and the making of the Landscape   RA

SCHWITTERS IN BRITAIN (1887 – 1948   ) Tate Britain

BECOMING PICASSO – 18 paintings from 1901     Courtauld

ICE AGE ART – arrival of the modern mind.   Ice Age objects placed beside modern works by Picasso, Courbet, Derain, Freud, Epstein and Marc Quinn. The appearance of IMAGINATION…marked by the 40,000 year old sculpture from Germany called the Lion Man…beginning of imagination and abstraction

MANET Portraying Life    RA

GEORGE BELLOWS (1882 – 1925) RA

COLLECTING GAUGUIN   (1848 – 1903) Coutauld

LOWRY and the painting of Modern Life   (1887 – 1976)



EGON SCHIELE (1890 – 1918)

GUSTAV KLIMPT (1862 – 1918)

LUCIEN FREUD (1922 – 2011)

MATISSE AND THE FAUVES 1905 First exhibition

EMILE NOLDE study (1867 – 1956)


THE YOUNG DURER   Courtauld Gallery

DAUMIER (1808 – 1879)

PAUL KLEE (1879 – 1940)  Tate Modern


As well as seeing work in Exhibitions, I’ve spent time studying specific artists to help me understand specific areas of the course….

Research into the History of Watercolour looking at images by John Robert Cozens (1752-1797), John Varley (1778-1842), Thomas Girtin(1775-1802), J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), Peter de Wint (1784-1849),Francis Towne (1739-1816), Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828), David Cox (1783-1859), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and finally Emil Nolde (1867-1956) 

This proved so worthwhile as an introduction to the course for me as I was completely ignorant of the history of watercolour.  I felt inspired with the amazing individuality of the work and the versatility of the medium.

Research into the painting of INTERIORS. I looked at the work of Susan Ryder, Philip Sutton, Ivon Hitchens, Edward Seago and William Ireland. I also studied 17th century Dutch painters who used the method of looking through one space into another. This method was called DOORKIJKJE meaning see-through door.

Even though I didn’t feel I had achieved much at all in painting interior spaces, I really enjoyed the research I did and felt that I would at some stage return to this genre.  It had great appeal, in particular the interiors painted by Turner at Petworth.

Research on How Painters have used Colour. For this study I looked at Turner’s ‘Dawn After the Wreck’ and Peter Graham’s ‘Holiday Afternoon – Cote d’Azur’ to compare how artists use colour.

Research into the history of Still Life painting

3 days in Paris and the opportunity to see Chardin first hand, in the Louvre..what a joy! Inspiring time spent at Sainte-Chapelle and the Musee d’Orsay.

Research on what artists represent in their landscape paintings. I looked at the work of David Prentice, David Curtis, Trevor Chamberlain, John Palmer, Edward Seago.

Research on urban landscapes in watercolour

Compared the work of R.M.W. Turner ( 1775-1851) with Bernard Vogel (1961-  )

Research on how Emile Nolde used colour in his watercolour painting

Research on how artists have used LINE in painting. 

I spent some time on this personal study because of my interest in drawing. I explored different kinds of line and the place that line had in a watercolour painting.  I found that line can be used so expressively and not just as a means of adding structure or outline.

Looking at how artists have used trees in landscape painting

Research on the difference between watercolour and mixed media.

Research on the main art movements of the twentieth century


All of this ‘looking’ and research has been very beneficial in my learning and I see these benefits in the following ways:

1. You are able to see the practical application of the painting skills you are being taught and in a distance learning environment this is particularly important.

2. The skills you are learning have a context.

3. The incredible variety and individuality of expression you see in the work of other artists emphasises the validity of your own visual language and the need to find it.

4. You begin to question why you like the work of some artists and not others.  I believe that this strengthens your individualism and leads to a greater understanding of yourself

5. It widens your knowledge and understanding and with that you experience a growth in appreciation.

6. It breaks down barriers of personal taste.

7. Without knowing it, you are growing as an artist.




About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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