Forgive me if this goes astray a little, I transposed and updated a list I made some time ago while dreadfully sick. I still think the information is useful, though I might have to do some editing later to streamline the experience.
How to Become a Better Artist
(Without Making Art)
or How to Supplement Your 10,000 Hours
Look at art, collect art. Be involved in art. Surround yourself with it. Go to shows, browse galleries online. Talk art, live art, breathe art. Immerse yourself in it.
Read about art. Fuck it - just read. Reading has been shown to quantifiably increase IQ and strengthen vocabulary, and it is known that success as an artist is directly correlated with general intelligence and breadth of knowledge. Artists, when taken in general, are perhaps less well read than other academics, but successful artists have been shown to one of the most highly versed sub groups. I'm not making this up. There is nothing but benefits for the well read mind. Another benefit has to do with intuition – the more you have filed away in your subconscious, the more you will be drawing from when your background processes start chugging away or you slip into “the zone” and start hammering out that piece you are enthralled with. If you only know three things, then all of your work will consist of those three things in various forms. If you know the world, you have the world at your disposal.
Study the masters, learn your art history. Learn where you come from, both to increase technique, gain inspiration, and just to see where you are coming from – and thus where you might be going. And never forget: one source is plagiarism, many is inspiration.
While you're at it examine in detail color theory, typography, layout and design. Spend some time learning the psychology of art, even dip into advertising.
Learn a little about post modernism. That's sort of the thing that's going on right now. You don't have to live by it, but you need to be aware of it.
Think about things that inspire you. Why do they inspire you? Really start to examine yourself as an artist and ask yourself the important questions. Why do you make art? Why do you work the way you work? You might learn a bit about yourself and it might further your development in unforeseen ways.
Investigate the world around you. Be an observer, do some people watching. Really dig into the minutiae of life. Go on trips, to foreign countries or just around the block. Just try to see things in a way you've never done before. Don't be a passive observer either, really actively involve yourself in the act of viewing, do it consciously, not just as a back drop to your other activities. A beginning artist is often told to look more at the model and less at his sketch pad, we need to learn how to see and not just look.
Do brain expanding exercises. There are a variety of these and many are easily found online with a quick search. Things such as drawing with your left hand or doing a blind contour drawing (I know, I know, that's making art and I am totally cheating, but I doubt it will be anything to write your mother about, and plenty of them don't involve a pad and pen).
Introduce yourself to things you don't know, and maybe don't even necessarily like. Not just art, but in a variety of media including music, books, and movies. If you don't like it, really chew on it and try to decide why you don't rather than dismissing it automatically. Either way, learn from it.
Collect materials that inspire you. Like a raven with shiny baubles, surround yourself with things you find interesting. These could be items you find inspirational, items that you want to use in future projects, or simply be fun to look at. Hobbyists are adept at this and often contain full rooms of odds and ends (not that you need to go this far). If collage appeals to you, collect discarded magazines, if sculpture is your thing then help that local demolition site discard of a few choice materials. They won't miss them. Good sources for discovery include swap meets, garage sales, and flea markets, but don't think too highly of yourself to go sorting through someone's trash to find that astounding thing you never knew you needed. Of course this includes more “mundane” things like paintings and paintbrushes, or just news clippings, colored paper and photos. Even just a recollection of patterns or prints is useful to many artists, as are things pulled from nature.
Be open to new experiences. If someone offers you an opportunity to embark into the unfamiliar, by all means take it. Each new outlook enhances your internal “palette” of experience that you can later draw from to create your works.
Create a space you feel comfortable working in. This is really important for some people. It might be hard to work crammed into a corner with your flatmate's kegger going on around you, but then again, maybe it wouldn't be.
Make friends with artists. Peer groups are invaluable, as is honest critical discussion. If your friends are too caring to really dish it out, find someone who will. Also, like all things in life it helps to do your networking.
Always, always daydream and keep those thoughts circulating in your head. Seek out ideas and concepts, not just hard facts. Philosophy and the intellectual have been mothers to art since time immemorial and their influence only seems to increase as time progresses.
Never give in to your fear. You don't have to impress anyone, no one starts out a prodigy. Failure is needed to grow and learn. Just keep on going.