Arthur Watson studied Printmaking and Printed Textiles at Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen. In 1974 he was the principal founding member of Peacock Printmakers, an artists' print workshop, publisher and gallery, collaborating directly with over 100 artists and leading many international projects. Watson was also a founding board member of both the Scottish Sculpture Workshop and the 369 Gallery. In 1990 he represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale; in 1995 he was appointed Course Director of the Master of Fine Arts programme at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, before becoming Head of Graduate Studies in Fine Art in 2000. He established the Centre of Artists Books and Fine Art publishing at the Visual Research Centre with projects including the Great Book of Gaelic for the Gaelic Arts Agency and Voices of Scotland for the Scottish Executive.
Watson was President of the Royal Scottish Academy from 2012 to 2018.