An influential art critic and essayist, he was an early promoter of the work of abstract expressionist artists. His best-known essay, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," was published in the Partisan Review in 1939.
He graduated from Syracuse University in 1930. Fluent in Yiddish, Italian and German, he found early work as a translator.
As an art critic for The Nation, he praised works of abstract expressionism.
His parents were Russian immigrants who operated a string of businesses in New York City. During the mid-1930s, he had a brief marriage that produced a son.
He championed the work of Jackson Pollock.