Shirley Tse, as drawn by Phaidon's Creative Director Julia Hasting for AKADAMIE X

Watch Shirley Tse talk about her DIY ethic

The sculptor and Cal Arts tutor praises informality and amateurism in our new book AKADEMIE X

Our new book AKADEMIE X, encourages readers to learn to think, see and live like an artist. It's an inspirational and practical guide, drawing on the advice of 36 artworld figures, including Marina Abramovic, Bob Nickas, Olafur Eliasson and Miranda July.

Plenty of the advice is positive, yet there are also some distinct 'don'ts' in there residing alongside the 'dos'. In particular, the sculptor and installation artist Shirley Tse, co-director of the art programme at Cal Arts, cautions against any young artist waiting around for a museum to give him or her a show. 

Tse, who has been exhibiting professionally for over 20 years, said she began by displaying her work in fairly unorthodox spaces. “I would find myself showing in someone's garage, someone's living room,” she explains in this video we shot to accompany the book's release. “We would even rent several rooms in a motel and do weekend shows.” This informal exposure paid off, later leading to gallery interest.


Shirley Tse

Interestingly, Tse's embrace of amateurism extends to making art too. She believes artists should celebrate the amateur, at least in the sense of attempting new and untried things; “it keep yourself curious, so you are open to new things that interest you,” she says, “you will find a way to teach yourself how to know enough in order to do the work you're interested in doing.” 

Also, in Tse's opinion, any putative artist shouldn't worry unduly about any perceived mimicry or copying. “I have seen quite a number of young artists, while they're working on their own work, start looking at other people's work,” she says, “and they're like 'oh my god, this has already been done'.”


 Waiting At the Place Where America Parts From Eurasia Series #1384 by Shirley Tse. Courtesy of
Waiting At the Place Where America Parts From Eurasia Series #1384 by Shirley Tse. Courtesy of

It can be dispiriting, yet Tse advises that, if your work ends up looking quite a lot like someone else's, “it shows evidence of collective intellectual commonality.” A good thing, apparently.

 “I like what Duchamp said,” she says, “art is not so much about creating, it's about choosing.” Wise words, from a late great art world figure, fitting appropriated by one of today's fine artists. Check back soon for more from AKADEMIE X, and if you like what you see, you can buy the book here.