Suk was taught organ, violin, and piano by his father, also known by the name Josef Suk. Though he did not start composing until 1891, he was well-trained in music. He was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz and his theory studies were conducted with several others including composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan. All of his training aside, his musical skill was said to be an inheritance. Though continuing his lessons with Wihan another year after his schooling was complete, one of Josef Suk's largest inspirations was another one of his teachers, who was also a very well-known Czech composer: Antonín Dvořák.
Because of their heritage and deaths coming in the same year, Suk's works and style were compared closely to another Czech composer, Otakar Ostrčil. Known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils, Suk and Dvořák became very close. This could pertain to Dvořák's respect for Suk, and the same respect for Suk can be recognized in the fact that Suk later married Dvořák's daughter, Otilie. This marked some of Suk's happier times in his life and music. However, the last portion of Suk's life was stricken with tragedy. Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk's mentor, Dvořák, die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk's Asrael Symphony. Suk retired in 1933, although he continued to be a very valuable and inspirational person to his Czech people.
Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, was considered to be one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much of this influence coming from Dvořák. Popular composers, such as Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick, recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet. Over time, other well-known Austrian composers, like Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, also began to take notice of Suk. Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. His orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892). His time with the Czech Quartet, though successfully performing concerts up until his retirement, was not always met with approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns began to rise, and criticism was pointed at the quartet and Suk, specifically. Zdeněk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of playing concerts in the Czech lands during a time of war. These attacks diminished Suk's spirits, but did not hinder his work.