Richard Serra’s action verbs
Print This Page

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. On their website, they describe 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.

We have used this list with our students at least a dozen times, in various units, to teach various skills. This is our favorite:
Objective: To develop conceptual understanding, to represent ideas in multiple mediaBest for: High school students, individually

Concepts and Skills: Drawing, modelmaking, concept development

Materials: Modeling materials (cardboard, chipboard, glue, tape), popsicle sticks, toothpicks, string, pens, paper

Time: Minimum of one class period, can be expanded up to 6-8 hours

Assignment: Choose a verb from the list. In drawn, modeled, and kinesthetic (body movement) form, represent that verb as a design concept. You must produce the following:

- sketches or drawings (gestural, drafted, etc) that represent your verb.
- 3d models or small-scale sculptures that represent your verb.
- A hand or body movement that can be taught to others that represents your verb.
(Adjust number of drawings or modeled to be produced by students based on time and material constraints).
50% Quality of work (creativity and execution)
25% Quantity of work (iterations)
25% Participation and teamwork