SynopsisRosalind Krauss was a critic and contributing editor for Artforum and one of the founders of the quarterly art theory journal October. She has been a highly influential critic and theorist in the post-Abstract Expressionist era. Originally a disciple of the Clement Greenberg, Krauss later became enthralled with newer artistic movements that she believed required a different theoretical approach, which focused less on the aesthetic purity of an art form (prevalent in Greenberg's criticism), and more on aesthetics that captured a theme or historical and/or cultural issue. Krauss still teaches Art History at Columbia University in New York.
Key Ideas / Information
Childhood and EducationRosalind Epstein Krauss was born to Matthew M. Epstein, an attorney, and Bertha Luber. Her father instilled in Rosalind a love for the arts, and would frequently take her to museums in the Washington, D.C. area.
Rosalind earned her Bachelors degree in Art History from Wellesley College in 1962, the same year she became married to the architect, Richard I. Krauss. Immediately after graduating from Wellesley, Krauss was accepted into Harvard Universitys Department of Fine Arts (now the Department of History of Art and Architecture), where she received her Ph.D. in Art History. Her dissertation was on the work of American sculptor David Smith, who had passed away in 1965. If it had not been for Smiths passing, and as a direct consequence, posthumous fame, it is doubtful Harvard would have allowed Krauss to write about a contemporary artist like Smith.
One of Krauss classmates at Harvard was the art critic and historian Michael Fried, with whom she shared an early affinity for the theories and writings of Clement Greenberg. Krauss and Fried soon developed opposing views on the direction taken by Modern art in the post-Abstract Expressionist era. While Fried celebrated the Post-Painterly Abstractions of artists like Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, Krauss was a fan of the Minimalists, such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.
Krauss earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1969, but she had been writing art criticism for the journal Artforum since 1966. In her first year of writing for the magazine, Krauss published a well-received article entitled “Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd.”
Work as Critic and ProfessorAfter graduating from Harvard, Krauss became an associate professor of Art History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and quickly rose to the position of full professor within two years.
In 1971 Krauss was promoted to contributing editor for Artforum. That same year, she divorced her husband and published her first book, an expanded version of her Harvard dissertation, entitled Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith.
The following year, Krauss published in the pages of Artforum what is arguably her seminal essay, “A View of Modernism,” in which she began to criticize Greenbergian art criticism for largely ignoring content and feeling. She also condemned a form of Rosenbergian criticism in writing: “In the 50s we had been alternately tyrannized and depressed by the psychologizing whine of `Existentialist criticism.” Krauss view of Modernism was evidently still developing in these pages, as she devoted more time to pinpointing faults with art criticism rather than elaborating a new strategy for examining art.
In 1972 Krauss left M.I.T. to take a position at Princeton University, where she lectured regularly and directed their visual arts program.
In 1975 Krauss left Princeton and became an associate professor of Hunter College in New York City. The following year, Krauss left Artforum (considered a rash decision at the time, given the magazines high profile and favorable reputation) and together with her former Harvard classmate, Annette Michelson, started the arts and culture quarterly journal October. The journals namesake came from the 1927 Sergei Eisenstein film, October: Ten Days That Shook the World, based on the Bolshevik October revolution.
The “Octoberists”The “Octoberists,” as the journals founders were called (including Krauss, Michelson and the artist Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe), founded the publication in New York City, and appointed Krauss as its founding editor. October was formed as a politically-charged journal that introduced American readers to the ideas of French post-structural theory, made popular by Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. October also became a popular forum for postmodern art theory.
Krauss used October as a way to publish essays on her emergent ideas on post-structuralist art theory, Deconstructionist theory, psychoanalysis, postmodernism and feminism. More importantly, October was significant for revisiting and stressing the historical importance of early modes of 20th-century avant-garde art, such as Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. She currently continues to edit and write for October.
LegacyKrauss is one of the 20th-centurys foremost art critics and theorists on Modern and postmodern art, having written in-depth analyses of individual artists like Picasso, Giacometti and Pollock, and broader conceptual studies of artistic movements like Minimalism and Conceptualism. Her greatest contribution to art criticism came when she broke from formalist Greenbergian theory (which prioritized medium as an artworks most expressive feature) and offered a new idea that, by the 1970s, the art world had entered the “post-medium” age, wherein artistic media had ceased to be important. According to Krauss, “post-medium” forms of art (or what many think of as postmodern or post-structuralist) did not try to engage people via a pure and discrete artistic medium, nor did they represent a means of protest to commercialism and commodification. Artists in the post-medium age could still strive for purity in their art, Krauss argued, but this effort had less to do with any form of media and everything to do with the works expressive power and historical contextualization.
Early Ideas on ModernismRosalind Krauss early writings from the mid-1960s were informed by the perspectives of critics like Greenberg and the young Michael Fried, who believed that technically-proficient modes of painterly abstraction were the greatest artistic achievements of the Modern era. “With `modernism,” Krauss wrote in “A View of Modernism” in 1972, “ it was precisely its methodology that was important to a lot of us who began to write about art in the early 1960s. That method demanded lucidity. It demanded that one not talk about anything in a work of art that one could not point to. It involved tying back ones perceptions about art in the present to what one knew about the art of the past.” Krauss admittedly adhered to these standards of art writing, adopting the Greenbergian formalist approach of considering solely what one can see with ones own eyes.
Breaks from Greenbergian FormalismKrauss perspective, however, eventually diverged from Greenberg. Whereas Greenberg had concluded that abstract painting of the 1950s and 60s represented the pinnacle of Modern artistic achievement, Krauss came to believe that Greenbergs approach was too limited in scope. She began to consider the more elusive qualities of an artwork; the things one could not point to in a painting or sculpture. This eventually led her to conclude that purity, while still an important quality in art, had little to do with style or medium and more to do with the artists intentions.
According to Krauss, the responsibility of the Modern avant-garde artist was to continually challenge the artistic standards established by history. Consequently, the critics job was to recognize these challenges, whether or not they constituted something notable. Krauss wrote in 1972, “We can no longer fail to notice that if we make up schemas of meaning based on history, we are playing into systems of control and censure. We are no longer innocent. `For if the norms of the past serve to measure the present, they also serve to construct it.” Krauss goal in writing this was to free both artist and critic from succumbing to certain expectations.
Influence of Contemporary French PhilosophyWhen Krauss left Artforum to establish the quarterly October, she set out to create an open forum for art and cultural criticism to exist virtually free from the confines of traditional art theory. This was heavily informed by the writings of French philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Commonly referred to as post-structuralists or Deconstructionists, they proposed that there existed no universal meaning or symbolism, no common archetypal symbols; therefore, it was irresponsible to critique any form of art based on this understanding.
This new post-structuralist theory was a significant break from early Abstract Expressionist theory, which took as its influence the ideas of Existentialism, psychoanalysis and Eastern philosophy, all of which stressed the existence and importance of mutually shared experience, universal symbols and shapes. In adopting post-structuralist theory, Krauss revisited the work of early-20th-century artists like Duchamp and Ray, and early uses of photography, in order to stress that these artworks were not bound by a supposed universal symbolism.
Below are Rosalind Krauss' major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1966 - present
Quotes“Obviously modernism is a sensibility – one that reaches out past that small band of art critics of which I was a part, to include a great deal more than, and ultimately to criticize, what I stood for.”
“Almost everyone is agreed about `70s art. It is diversified, split, factionalized. Unlike the art of the last several decades, its energy does not seem to flow through a single channel for which a synthetic term, like Abstract Expressionism, or Minimalism, might be found.”
Written by Rosalind KraussThe Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
The Optical Unconscious
Passages in Modern Sculpture
Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, Volumes 1-2
L'Amour fou : Photography and Surrealism
Krauss: Terminal Iron Works
Written about Rosalind KraussRosalind Krauss and American Philosophical Art Criticism: From Formalism to Beyond Postmodernism
Articles by Rosalind KraussSplit Decisions: Jasper Johns in Retrospect
Reinventing the Medium [excerpt]
Perspectives on Walter Benjamin
Winter 1999, Volume 25, Number 2
Articles about Rosalind KraussRosalind Krauss, Jeremy Waldron Named University Professors at Columbia University
AScribe Law News Service
The Reusable Past
Rosalind E. Krauss: The Originality of the Avant-Garde
By John Haber
|Formalism is an approach to interpreting art that emphasises qualities of form - color, line, shape, texture and so forth. Formalists generally argue that these are at the heart of art's value. The belief that form can be detached from content, or subject matter, goes back to antiquity, but it has been particularly important in shaping accounts of modern and abstract art. In recent decades formalism has met with resistance, and a range of other approaches, including social and psychoanalytic, have gained popularity.
ArtStory: Formalism Page
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp Page
|The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti created semi-abstract sculptures that took up themes of violence, sex, and Surrealism. His famous later work is characterized by towering, elongated figures in bronze.
ArtStory: Alberto Giacometti Page
|David Smith was an American artist who combined Surrealism and formal abstraction in his sculptures. His early works, small and with a craft-like aesthetic, give way later on to giant constructions of welded and burnished steel.
ArtStory: David Smith Page
|Donald Judd was an early and influential Minimalist artist who made large-scale geometric objects, often of industrial materials and serially arranged on the floor or wall. He helped found the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where many key works of Minimalism are installed.
ArtStory: Donald Judd Page
|Dan Flavin was an American artist best known for his Minimalist constructions of color and light. Often using nothing more than a few dozen fluorescent bulbs for his work, Flavin was a crucial figure in the Minimalism of the 1960s and 70s. His light installations altered the physical exhibition space, and were designed as experiential art rather than visual art.
ArtStory: Dan Flavin Page
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page
|Michael Fried is an American art critic and historian who gained acclaim for his ideas on "theatricality" in art. Fried applied this idea to the artistic style Minimalism, which he believed negatively blurred the boundaries between natural art forms and non-art objects.
ArtStory: Michael Fried Page
|Leo Steinberg is one the 20th century's foremost historians and scholars on the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo and other Italian Renaissance artists. In addition to his scholarly work of Renaissance art, Steinberg is also a significant authority on 20th-century modern art, including the paintings and sculptures of Picasso, Jasper Johns's Flag series, and Willem de Kooning's Woman series.
ArtStory: Leo Steinberg Page
|Georges Bataille was a 20th-century French writer, philosopher and poet. A fringe figure for most of his life, Bataille's writings dealt with ideas of mysticism, eroticism, human sacrifice, and deviant behavior. Despite a lackluster reception in life, his posthumous influence on writers and philosophers has been felt, and Bataille is now considered a key figure in the development of transgressionist literature.
|Maurice Merleau-Ponty was a 20th-century French phenomenological philosopher. Highly influenced by the writings and theories and Marx, Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty examined the structures of human consciousness, and how things such as art, literature and the sciences affect these structures. Essentially an existentialist, Merleau-Ponty believed the human body, consciousness and the world around us were all intertwined entities.
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism Page
|Existentialism is a system of philosophical thought founded in the 19th century and championed by such figures as Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard, and later by 20th-century literary figures like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism deals largely with the complexities of individual human emotions, thoughts and responsibilities.
ArtStory: Existentialism Page
|The term "happening" was coined by artist Allan Kaprow in 1957 to decribe a series of multi-media artworks on display in a single locale. In general, a happening is an art event, often staged or pre-scripted, that requires active participation from an audience to come to full fruition. This relatively new form of artistic media could be called participatory.
ArtStory: Happenings Page
|Allan Kaprow was an American painter, collagist, assemblagist and performance artist. Working in the styles of Fluxus, Installation and various other mixed-media styles, Kaprow was best known for trailblazing the artistic concept "happenings," which were experiential artistic events rather than single works of art.
ArtStory: Allan Kaprow Page
|Richard Serra is an American Process and Minimalist artist. His sculptures have ranged from hurled drips of molten lead to gigantic steel pieces installed in public places.
ArtStory: Richard Serra Page
|Robert Morris is an American artist whose early L-beam and column sculptures were key works in Minimalism. His work also includes felt and fabric pieces, performance, body art, and earthworks, often with an emphasis on process and theatricality.
ArtStory: Robert Morris Page
|Sol LeWitt was an American artist commonly associated with the Minimalist and Conceptual movements. He rose to prominence in the 1960s with the likes of Rauschenberg, Johns and Stella, and his work was included in the famous 1966 exhibit Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum. LeWitt's art often employed simple geometric forms and archetypal symbols, and he worked in a variety of media but was most interested in the idea behind the artwork.
ArtStory: Sol LeWitt Page
|William Kentridge is a South African animator, cartoonist, and mixed-media artist. He is perhaps best known for his politically-charged animated films, which are comprised of drawings that have been erased and re-drafted dozens of times and spliced together in a stop-motion type of media. Above all, Kentridge is among the most prolific and meticulous mixed-media artists in the postmodern era.
|Annette Michelson is an American film critic, professor, and along with Rosalind Krauss, a founding editor of October. Prior to her work with the journal, she was the film critic for Artforum.
|Barbara Rose is an American art historian. Her 1965 article "ABC Art" was an important early study of Minimalism.
|Peter Schjeldahl is an American art critic, teacher and postmodern poet. He joined the writing staff of The New Yorker is 1998 and is currently the magazine's head art critic.
|Hal Foster is an American art critic-historian who is best known for helping shape postmodern aesthetic theory, inspired by the likes of Rosalind Krauss, Michael Fried and T.J. Clark. To this day, Foster sits on the editorial board of the journal October, which was co-founded by his former dissertation advisor Rosalind Krauss.
|Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid 1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art Page
|Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
|Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the hot expressivism of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism Page
|Photorealism is a post-AbEx style of painting that was developed by such artists as Chuck Close, Audrey Flack and Richard Estes. Photorealists apply painting techniques to literally mimic the effects of photography and thus blur the line that have typically divided the two mediums.