Richard Serra: Verb List / 1967–68

A list of recurring words relevant to my research and body of work. Drawing from a variety of sources and contexts, some of the following words might vary from traditional definitions found in dictionaries.


There exist several definitions of the word “abstraction.” But every one of them involve “withdrawing,” “separation,” or “removal” from something. In a strictly philosophical sense, abstraction is defined as the “act or process of separating in thought, of considering a thing independently of its associations.”


The collection, dissemination, and analysis of information by the general public, especially after the invention of the internet and the mobile phone.


In her seminal essay, “Notes on Camp,’” Susan Sontag addresses the impossibility of a strict definition of camp, for camp is not a strict idea, but a “sensibility” (SONTAG 288). For Sontag, camp is, “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” (SONTAG 288). Camp is not a strict rule and cannot, with integrity, be mechanized.


Cosmopolitanism is the idea that all human beings are, or could or should be, members of a single community. To the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, cosmopolitanism balances our “obligations to others” with the “value not just of human life but of particular human lives”—what he calls “universality plus difference.”


The earliest definitions of the word "epic" were in reference to traditional heroic narratives as represented in the Iliad and Odyssey. The German dramatist Bretolt Brecht however employed the word differently, describing a theatrical style that transcended tradition. He coined the phrase epic theatre to describe a play or set of plays characterized by realism and exposed the artifice of the theatrical enterprise.


An occurrence, perceived in relation to the larger aspects of culture within a certain place, at a certain time.


Hyperreality, in semiotics and postmodernism, is an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies.


A reification of reality, usually manifesting as a visual.


The word is referred to in the context of systems theory where it is defined as the place where flesh meets metal, or, the place where information moves from one entity to another, from one node to another within the system.


First introduced by the Polish- American mathematician Alfred Korzybski, the concept describes the relationship between an object and a representation of that object. The concept speaks to our natural ability of devising abstract models of representation to make sense of the world. Maps, for example, are imperfect but effective abstractions of geographical territories. Paradoxically, the point isn’t to make the map as close to reality as possible. If that were to be the case, a map that represents reality on a one to one scale ceases to be a useful device. Hence, inherent to this relationship is a wilful reduction of reality.


A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning referring to a particular phenomenon or theme.


Narrative is the way the different elements in a story are organised to make a meaningful story. Some of these elements can be facts as in a documentary, or characters and action as in a drama. In this document, the word “narrative” will frequently be used in its capacity as a verb: to “narrativize” something. To narrativize is to imbue a story-like quality to reality, either in order to make it more intelligible, or to deceive.


Reception theory was first developed by the cultural theorist Stuart Hall in his seminal 1973 essay, Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. To Hall, the meaning of a text, show or movie is never inherent to the work itself, but is constructed through an active negotiation between the work and the reader. In essence, no work of art or any other form of content comes laden with its own meaning. It’s meaning is interpreted by the reader within the realm of their own cultural and personal experiences.


The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines semiotics as “the general study of symbolic systems, including language. The subject is traditionally divided into three areas: syntax, or the abstract study of signs and their interrelations; semantics, or the study of the relation between the signs and those objects to which they apply; and pragmatics, or the relationship between users and the system.” Hence, semiotics refers more to a system of representations and their changing relationships rather than focusing on unique instantiations of meaning-making.


Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with art, or more generally what the Oxford English Dictionary calls that of “taste, or of the perception of the beautiful.” The discipline in its modern form is primarily concerned with issues surrounding the creation, interpretation, and ultimate appreciation of works of art, and so it involves how the experience of such material is mediated through the individual sensitivity of the beholder, and the way the experience of it is shaped through presentation by cultural conventions such as museum exhibitions, artist talks, and other arenas of dissemination.


The term collective consciousness refers to the condition of the subject within the whole of society, and how any given individual comes to view herself as a part of any given group.


“Dialectics” is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides of the same subject.


Parting with the most common definition of the word as denoting an instance of language external to social relations, “discourse,” in this document, will be referred to more as a social and communal practice.


Ethics in this document is defined in opposition to “morals,” defined as a fixed set of rules or laws that prescribe how one ought to live one's life regardless of circumstance. Ethics, by contrast, contains no fixed parameters. It instead describes a dynamic system that maximizes human wellbeing. As the philosopher Alain Badiou describes it, “the ethical principle refers to immediate action, while morality is to concern reflexive action.”


Not to be confused with the literary movement, anything that pertains to the visual or aesthetic form of an object is referred to as formal in this document. It is often positioned in opposition to “structural,” which refers to larger social and cultural structures that operate within a society. Coming from the Latin forma, implying beauty, the word form is more commonly related to the definitions an usage of the Latin eidos, originally signifying recognizable visual characteristics of a thing.


A traditional Marxist technique of fabricating information about people or corporations painting them in a virtuous light, compelling them to correct themselves in public.


Conceived by the cultural theorists Robert Pfaller and Slavoz Zizek as a portmanteau of interactivity and passivity, interpassivity is defined as a state of passivity in the presence of the potential of interactivity. The purpose of the concept is to “explain how works of art and media sometimes seem to provide for their own reception.”


A term coined by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard to describe the modern instinct (propelled by social media) of treating life as a collection of consumable experiences and objects. To Baudrillard, this instinct is the natural outcome of the taxonomical gaze that the advent of the camera prompted, where the present moment is seized and captured as an object, to be made docile and durable.


Neoliberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez- faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism championed by thinkers like Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M Buchanan and implemented by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.


Commonplace or dull; matter of fact or unimaginative.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines representation as “an image, likeness, or reproduction in some manner of a thing.” The word can also be defined through an example. Take the Mona Lisa. It is a painting that not everyone has access to. In this sense, we can understand representation as a medium in that it stands between ‘the real’ and the spectator. Because of its ability to be copied or reproduced, the representation becomes more accessible to be communicated on a mass level.


Traditionally applied to written and verbal communication, the term discourse today has come to be used in contexts outside the framework of traditional linguistics. Communication today is achieved as much in the realm of images, and visuals as through the written word. Hence, when applied to the extralinguistic realm of the image, discourse is re-framed as visual discourse.