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Contributor Name



Verb List Challenge


Art + Design, College of Art & Architecture, University of Idaho


Conversation points for instructors



Acknowledgements, if applicable






Course Level


Conversation points for instructors

I find upper level students rarely struggle to find words when placing value on the final outcome of their or peers artwork when a clear concept or familiar image drove the work from the start. But when an artwork enters critique that has been created more intuitively or is highly evident of process and residue, yet not an easy fill for “This looks like _____” or “This reminds me of _____,” the class atmosphere is crickets.  I created this challenge to shift the imbalance of critique discussion, pushing students to see the value of process and intentional act (even if at first random) as artform. This challenge asks students to consider more carefully the flavor, nuance and intrigue of action as well as the power of finding better words.

The outcome of this challenge can be presented F2F in a slam poetry like fashion (snaps welcome!) or in a zoom performance / show and tell event.

I have used this quick challenge in Intermediate / Advanced Sculpture Classes and Senior BFA Studio, but since the focus is on examining process, it can be used in any course with variations that fit media focus.



Project Prompt / Challenge

Based on our discussion of Richard Serra's Verb List and the types of guiding questions that lead us in making (material, conceptual, aesthetic, and efficiency) before next class, take on this challenge: 



[Please Note:  I share the first part of this challenge verbally and the rest in writing forcing students to let go of getting my expectations "right" and hoping they can trust me when I say I'm open to all approaches to this challenge.]

Offered Verbally:

"I've given each of you a bag with two items inside. You are to make an artwork with them before next class period. They're yours to do whatever you want with for this next quick-fire like challenge.  Beyond these items, materials you use are up to you. Your resourcefulness is welcome.  In addition there is a small sheet of paper with further directions.  Along with these suggestive words in print, I'm also going to state just one word that I want you to consider while you make: Pair/Pear/Pare [I say it once; they interpret how they will.]

Offered in Writing:

  1. List the verbs you enact to make this artwork.

  2. Then after considering the tone of your language, answer these questions in your sketchbook/journal:

•During this process, what intrinsic motivations did you note?

•What material, conceptual, aesthetic, and efficiency decisions guided your process? How where these decisions balanced out in your process? Did you favor some creative decision types more than others?  If so, why?  And is this often your tendency?

Bring your finished artworks and your verb list to class next period.  When sharing your work, you will recite only your verb list.  Describing/defending your process or concept behind your piece will not be part of this presentation. Once everyone presents, group discussion will follow. 


Open,  except for small items assigned by instructor. 

I often use plastic army men I can get at the local dollar store in bags of 5 in the toy section.  If teaching online, students can be directed to find 1-2 small items they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of art, but I suggest pushing them to make that choice quickly.


1-2 days. 


Student Examples:

Examples from two different approaches to the assignment: first nine are from when students were handed two plastic army men  & the rest when students were asked to find their own objects to work with. 



Richard Serra’s Verb List, 1967-68.  Probably obvious at this point, but I find this quote helpful to share: “The Verb List gave me a subtext for my experiments with materials. The problem I was trying to resolve in my early work was: How do you apply an activity or a process to a material and arrive at a form that refers back to its own making?”

(Richard Serra quoted by Gary Garrels in “An Interview with Richard Serra (2010)” in Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective (Houston: The Menil Collection, 2011), 61.)


Additional Tips: 

I try to limit other artists I share with students in preparation for this challenge, but I’ve found it helpful to at least try a walk through of sorts, asking students to make assumptions about the actions one artist might have taken to get to their end result.  For example, sharing Rachel de Joode, The Matter of it Being a Stone, 2014  prior to offering assignment details has helped students consider the strange balance of material, conceptual, aesthetic, and efficiency choices they might explore in their process. If you find any other examples, please share.

I would really love to see this tried out in a ceramics course.  What would students do if handed some clay paired with an object, for example?  If you try this out, please email me about your experience. This wondering mind wants to know how it turned out!

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