“Drawing is a verb,” the artist Richard Serra once said. Serra’s Verb List (1967–68) serves as a kind of manifesto for this pronouncement. 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.
Serra has talked at length, for example, about the central place this language-based drawing occupied in the development of his early sculpture. “When I first started, what was very, very important to me was dealing with the nature of process,” he said. “So what I had done is I’d written a verb list: to roll, to fold, to cut, to dangle, to twist…and I really just worked out pieces in relation to the verb list physically in a space.” A sort of linguistic laying out of possible artistic options, this work on paper functioned for the artist “as a way of applying various activities to unspecified materials.”
But while Serra is primarily known as a sculptor—and certainly his more recent monumental steel ellipses not only twist, curve, and swirl, but also enclose, surround, and encircle—the verbs in this list have been influential across his body of work.
Last week I was working with the PGCE students at the Royal Society of Sculptors and it struck me one of the key issues for teaching sculpture is that art teachers think it needs to be overly complex. On this occasion we took simple terms like 'to roll, to cut, to puncher' and considered balance and gravity as the elements. It took minutes to achieve, used very few materials and hardly any equipment, yet enabled fruitful conversations about what can be taught in 3D with young people. Below are my examples, made in less than 20 minutes. A simple conversation on process.