Art in Theory - The Important Work of Critic Rosalind Krauss

March 11, 2018

Rosalind Krauss is a highly influential art critic and theorist whose career was launched in the post-Abstract Expressionist era when she began theorizing about how newer artistic movements required a different analytical approach than what traditional methods dictated. Krauss primarily built a reputation for feminist, deconstructionist and psychoanalytic methodology[1] she developed during the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, she focused primarily on masculine aesthetics and how contemporary artists tended to respond to it.

Krauss' attempts to understand the phenomenon of modernist art, on its historical, theoretical and formal levels, led her in various directions over the course of years. She investigated the development of photography and its history-running parallel to that of modernist painting, explored how the world perceived so-called high arts, redefined how we observe sculptures and searched the true meaning of avant-garde arts.

Rosalind Krauss' theories and criticism saw her take on challenging concepts such as formlessness or the optical unconscious, yet this professor at Columbia University handled defining these notions in a manner that her writing appealed to art pundits whilst also being enjoyable reads to laymen.

Photo of Krauss,  information from York Press books
Photo of Rosalind Krauss, via

Rosalind Krauss as a Critic and a Professor of Art History

After receiving a diploma from Harvard, Krauss quickly became a professor of Art History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1971, she was promoted to contributing editor for Artforum, an international monthly magazine specializing in contemporary art that was founded in 1962. Krauss published her first book that same year, which was actually an expanded version of her Harvard dissertation, entitled Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith.

In 1972, Rosalind published A View of Modernism in Artforum, an essay that remains one of her most praised works to this day. In it, Krauss criticized Greenbergian art criticism for largely ignoring the content and the "feeling" aspects whilst analyzing artworks. Since she clearly devoted more time to pinpointing faults with art criticism rather than elaborating a new strategy for examining art, it's fair to say that Krauss’ view of Modernism was evidently still developing at this particular time.

In 1975, Krauss became an associate professor of Hunter College in New York City. The following year, she left Artforum, a decision that was questioned by many as the magazine was enjoying quite a bit of success back then. However, Rosalind was not without a plan - the up-and-coming art critic, along with her former Harvard classmate Annette Michelson, started the arts and culture quarterly journal October which quickly came to be regarded as a prime resource for contemporary art lovers.

Rosalind Krauss. Knighthood: The Medium Strikes Back

Writing About Art in a Post-Structuralist Fashion

Although she initially was quite fond of Clement Greenberg's work, over time, Krauss came to embrace a Post-Structuralist point of view. A structuralist art critic believes every element of an artwork can be understood in terms of how it relates to a structured system of thinking - post-structuralist is basically the polar opposite of that idea.

Post-structuralist art writing is not so much criticism as it does not "go after" any sort of final judgment of a work of art. This methodology of art examining is more interested in multiple interpretations, it advocates for individual evaluation more so than for objective analysis. In other words, post-structuralists reject any form of authority of inherited structures.

Krauss proved herself a true master of this methodology. Her manner of approaching artworks advocates talking about things in ways that question the status quo, challenging established ways of understanding arts and substituting it with a more experimental and engaging point of view.

Book Covers of The Optical Unconscious and Bachelors, A david theory is about the ways of life
Book Covers of The Optical Unconscious and Bachelors, via

The October Magazine

After ten years of writing for Artforum, Rosalind Krauss surprised many by deciding to leave the magazine, a choice many characterized as being too impulsive[2]. However, this decision proved to be the right one despite first appearances - Krauss quickly co-founded a new art journal with Annette Michelson, called October. This new platform for art pundits aimed to advance new ways of thinking about modern and contemporary art. The journal was symbolically named after the month that marked the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Krauss has published her most influential art writings within the pages of October. In the magazine's 8th volume, she published her essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field, a brilliant piece of writing that explained the vastly expanded viewpoint of sculpture. This essay did not describe a specific method of defining sculpture but rather began a post-structuralist conversation about finding ways of discussing plastic art tendencies without needing to rigidly define what they are.

In October's 9th volume, Krauss published another important essay called Grids, considered by many to be one of the most important works on the 20th century's phenomenon of abstraction. The essay starts off by exploring the history of the use of grids in art and it eventually contemplates the various ways artists have reduced their work. Grids ultimately establishes that these patterns in art are symbolic, but the essay never strives to precisely pin-point what they symbolize, instead opting to allow the readers to come to their own conclusions.

Book Covers of The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths and Perpetual Inventory (October Books), david made a theory about how anyone one can get a university education; Books Jack York used to like would press for a lot of information
Book Covers of The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths and Perpetual Inventory (October Books), via

Key Reasons Why Rosalind Krauss Became a Leading Figure of Contemporary Art Critics

Through her brilliant written works that described and discussed much more than they provided any sort of judgment, Krauss became an iconic critic with an open mind praised for establishing a new, much less rigid methodology of analyzing art. She dedicated a lot of her efforts to putting contemporary artworks into perspective and, by doing so, became one of art world's vital bloodlines.

There are numerous reasons why Krauss turned out to be such a well-respected critic. She loved explaining Abstract Expressionism as a singular movement whose practitioners stayed true to strict standards of medium purity and anti-commercialism. When the new artistic currents and styles were breaching the scene in the 1960s and the 1970s, Rosalind observed and introduced a variety of young up-and-coming artists experimenting with radically new perceptions of art and space.

Furthermore, her writings placed a particular emphasis on artists who worked in sculpture whilst revealing a whole new approach to observing plastic arts. It should also be noted that Krauss celebrated innovative post-AbEx styles, praising them as a new enlightenment in the history of Modernism.

Finally, Rosalind shredded the importance of medium purity in art, directing her analysis toward matters of feminism, post-structuralism and post-minimalism, aspects of artwork much more relevant to her contemporary art scene. When viewed from that perspective, Krauss can be viewed as the leading figure of the "post-medium" era which caused the artistic media to become nearly irrelevant. Krauss argued that the work's value had less to do with the choice of medium and a lot more with the work’s expressive power and historical contextualization - a revolutionary point of view that left a huge mark on how we interpret contemporary artworks today.

The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind E. Krauss

The Legacy of Rosalind Krauss' Work

It's fair to say that Krauss' influence on the art world did not diminish over the years. She is still regarded as one of 20th-century’s foremost art critics and theorists on Modern and postmodern art, while her in-depth analyses of individual artists like Picasso, Giacometti and Pollock are respected as leading resources for art pundits interested in the oeuvres of these masters.

Furthermore, Rosalind's conceptual studies of artistic movements like Minimalism and Conceptualism are treated as some of the best pieces on the subjects ever written. Krauss’s ideas provide a welcome jumping-off point to any young artists and critics interested in broadening the conventional way of observing art.

Ultimately, Krauss' greatest legacy is that she pioneered a way of analyzing art that describes far more than it judges. This was a huge break from the traditional way of debating about artworks and is one that can still be felt on nearly every level of contemporary art criticism.

Editors’ Tip: The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths

In this challenging collection of fifteen essays, most of which originally appeared in October, Krauss explores the ways in which the break in style that produced postmodernism has forced a change in our various understandings of twentieth-century art, beginning with the almost mythic idea of the avant-garde. Krauss uses the analytical tools of semiology, structuralism and poststructuralism to reveal new meanings in the visual arts and to critique the way other prominent practitioners of art and literary history write about art. In two sections, "Modernist Myths" and "Toward Postmodernism," her essays range from the problem of the grid in painting and the unity of Giacometti's sculpture to the works of Jackson Pollock, Sol Lewitt and Richard Serra.


  1. Anonymous, A List of Rosalind Epstein Krauss's Literary Works, Monoskop [Jan 16, 2018]
  2. Plante, D., August 30th, 2013, The Real Thing: An Interview with Rosalind E. Krauss, Art Critical [Jan 16, 2018]

Featured image: Photo of Krauss, via All images used for illustrative purposes only.