Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967–68)

Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967–68)

Richard Serra’s list of 84 verbs – “to roll,” “to crease,” “to fold” – inspired his sculptural work in many different mediums.

Tell me more: In 1967, Richard Serra, a prolific large-scale steel sculptor, began writing a list of verbs that would inspire his work in any medium. The handwritten list is now part of the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Here’s how MoMA describes the piece:

In pencil on two sheets of paper, the artist lists the infinitives of 84 verbs – to roll, to crease, to fold, to store, etc.—and 24 possible contexts—of gravity, of entropy, of nature, etc. – in four columns of script. Serra described the list as a series of “actions to relate to oneself, material, place, and process,” and employed it as a kind of guide for his subsequent practice in multiple mediums.

Classroom Applications: We have used this list with our students at least a dozen times to teach a variety of skills. In high school classrooms, we ask students to choose a verb from the list and represent that verb as a design concept in drawn, modeled and kinesthetic forms. The 2D sketches and 3D models must represent the verb, and the hand or body movement must be one that can be taught to others.

In other contexts, the verbs might inspire written stories that are driven by a specific action word. They can be used to generate choreography, or clothing designs. They can be used in a physics class to develop ideas for small machines, in a physical education class as a way of identifying a theme of the day, or in an art studio where students develop work around a specific theme for the purpose of comparing their interpretations.

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