Rosenthal is idiosyncratic and prolific. She is known for often revisiting past works, recombining old elements with new, and often appears in her work in some way. These may include x-rays, brain scans and clothing. Sometimes she utilizes physical or textual elements from her journals. As a creative artist within the fields of surrealism and existentialism, Rosenthal brings existential content, via the subconscious, to conceptual art and is known for her intense introspection. and by using herself "as a guinea pig", explores what it means to be human. Her personal vision evolves with advancing technology.
Barbara Rosenthal standing in her top-floor loft at 727 Avenue of the Americas, NYC, in 1990. These framed photo-text artworks show how she incorporates existential philosophy into art, and the avant-garde way she utilizes framing and edges, particularly in "Dead Astronaut/Live Artist" above, and in the diamond-shaped work to her left, "Swimmer in the Universe/Scientists Are The Priests And Prophets". This work is composed of nine 20" x 20" separately framed segments of a swimmer in the distance, repeated exactly in all frames; the view into the water is horizontal, but the frame is tipped, and within each frame white text, printed as photograms, asserts various, non-repeated original ideas such as "God is the Idol of Science."
As an artist, Rosenthal is known as an Old Master of New Media because of her long history in media including photography, video, performance, projection installation, interactive, electronic and digital media, text, collage, prints, artists' books and objects. Almost all are produced in editions. Most combine camera, text and performative aspects. Elements of Rosenthal's body of work, "Surreal Photography" are often present.
As a writer, Barbara Rosenthal produces aphorisms, slogans, quips, poetry, stories, novels, text-based art, artist's books, pamphlets, art criticism, reviews and essays. She has kept a lifelong journal since age eleven. The journal has itself been the subject of several international exhibitions. Most of her aphorisms concern the nature of time and reality. They are issued as “Provocation Cards”, which she hands out free in performance or on the street  Her fiction, like her visual art, presents a grim world view, depicting surreal surroundings in which a lone individual faces incomprehensible situations. Rosenthal is a regular contributor to NYArts Magazine and is known for her principled stand against art as advocacy, which she labels “retro-garde”. This sets her in opposition to the prevailing political, cultural and feminist trends in contemporary art.
As a performer and personality, Barbara Rosenthal is known for showmanship and panache, and is described as passionate, dynamic, self-effacing, idiosyncratic, deep-thinking and absurdist. Her physical trademarks are long, wild red hair  and little round rose-tinted glasses. She is often barefoot. Her performances also often mix image, text and video.
Rosenthal's first college teaching position was as a sabbatical replacement instructor of painting at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri, in 1976-77. In 1982, with video pioneer Bill Creston, she founded eMediaLoft.org and .com. Since 1990, Rosenthal has taught writing as an adjunct lecturer at the College of Staten Island of The City University of New York (CUNY/CSI). Rosenthal has also taught photography, video, multi-media, painting, drawing, design, crafts and art history at other colleges, including, among those in New York, The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and Parsons School of Design, where she was editor and producer of The College Council Faculty Affairs Newsletter. She also taught as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Photography at SUNY/Nassau in 1994. She co-founded the Outrageous Consortium with filmmaker Margot Niederland in 2005; and founded The Museum of Modern Media in NYC, 2006.
Image /text art
Although, like many avant-garde artists, Barbara Rosenthal’s work is difficult to classify, it is usually described by categories of movement or media, even though many projects fuse elements from several: conceptual photography, surreal photography, artists' books and objects, installation, performance, video, film, cartoons, text-based art, mail art, and writings (in all forms of literature and exposition).
One important series that appears in several forms is “Homo Futurus,” which comprises two artist’s books of that title (one a blank book, eMediaLoft.org, 1984 and one with text and images, VSW Press, 1986), a wall work (shown at the Carlo Lamagna Gallery, 1987-88), and several print editions of various sizes. The purpose of this project has been described as lending insight into what makes us human, particularly in terms of ideals and values, and lending insight into the production of art, by citing information from the artist’s own experience and practice, as well as from various news sources. Imagery consists of reproduced news photos and articles, postcards, and personal archival and family photographs, juxtaposed with Rosenthal's "Surreal Photographs". Text is edited from Rosenthal’s Journals.
One line in the offset book is "All history, documentation, journalism, diplomacy, thought, art, culture, etc., serve only to influence behavior of single individuals at single moments." Another is "The Flaw of the Ideal Is That It Does Not Encounter Time or Touch.".
These particular aphorisms, later designed as text-based art, also appear in Rosenthal's print suite "Provocation Cards," first issued as an anonymous Mail Art series in 1989, later as a portion of her video-performance "Lying Diary / Provocation Cards", 1990. These were later handed out during live performances called "Existential Interacts", often incorporating “Identity Theft Masks” and “Existential Button Pins." This interactive project, ongoing since 2005, has been produced in New York, 2005, Berlin, and Prague, London, Brussels and Paris. Enlarged "Provocation Cards" have also hung hung as wall art at the Lucas Carrieri Gallery (Berlin, 2009),. Each time, the text and the image of the text were increasingly refined.
Two folios of “Provocation Cards Folio”, with variation of configuration, and translation in English, German and French, are in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London.
An exhibition and book launch for her project “Existential Cartoons”, with drawing, photography and captions in English and Russian was held at The L Gallery for Contemporary Art in Moscow, June 2006
In the Tina B. Prague Contemporary Art Festival, October 2009, and again in 2010, she represented the United States in both Performance Art and Text-Based Art,. In the medium of Performance Art, Rosenthal’s theme of individuality, human identity, and time is shared with her viewers most directly. Her performances usually mix installation, projected photographic images, text, video, mediated voice, music, and abstract sound. Her first performance/installation was “Self-Portrait Room”, 1968, but not thought of as being in those genres at the time
From 1976-1984, she performed in her videos by placing a stationary camera in front of a single-action life situation. In 1984, she began staging such actions, although still for video, sometimes with other performers, sometimes cutting segments together, such as the 1984 piece “Colors and Auras”, with poet Hannah Weiner and Sena Clara Creston, age 2. Rosenthal’s famous ventriloquism video of 1988, “How Much Does The Monkey Count”, was reprised in New York at CBGBs in 1991 and the Living Theater in 1992, but live performance, public appearances, or even readings were rare for her until 2005
From 1976-1996, she was the principal female actor in Super-8 films by Bill Creston, also producing several, seven of which were screened at The Museum of Modern Art in 1989.
In 2005, Rosenthal crashed the Performa05 Festival in NY with “Existential Interact” wearing her image-text “Button Pin Shirts” and handing out “Provocation Cards” in front of the Guggenheim Museum and White Box Gallery in New York. This interaction (often also incorporating “Identity Theft Masks” was performed at various iconic street locations in New York[30,] Berlin, Prague, London, Brussels, Paris and Brisbane.
The 2011 performance art annual, “Emergency Index” contains a spread about this project.) In 2013, Rosenthal began experimenting with video morphs, and included this technique in performances of “I’m Growing Up,” at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn, NY; and at AudioPollen in Brisbane, Australia. This project utilizes the “Identity Theft Masks”, but Rosenthal herself stands immobile as a white screen on which photographs of her own changing image are projected.
Photography is the medium that most expresses this artist’s subconscious as she apprehends reality. Particularly in her “Surreal Photography”, ongoing since 1976, Barbara Rosenthal “depicts original perceptions that imply psychological narrative". The images induce “metaphors in a viewer’s subconscious.”
She uses Olympus OM-1 35mm analog cameras to captures full-frame images. Until 2005 she shot only in black and white, which she hand processed and printed in her darkroom. Since 2006, she also shoots color film. She has continued to hand-process black-and white film, sending the color film to a commercial lab, but scans and digitally prints both types of negatives.
Of all her work, the photography most readily is shown in art galleries. In the past few years she has had solo or two-person photography shows in Peanut Underground, NYC (2013); Studio Baustelle, Berlin (2013); Visual Voice Gallery, Montreal (2012); and Galerie Glass, Berlin (2011). As with all her media, she works in several forms. Her “Surreal Photography” retains its full-frame rectangle. It comprises categories she calls “Free Birds", "Renegade Horses", "Trapped Figures", "Tiny Houses", "Strange Neighborhoods", "Aberrant Trees", "Dangerous Forests", "Sinister Landscapes", "Eerie Locations" and "Dark Continents". About 200 of her “Surreal Photographs” have been published by Visual Studies Workshop Press in her offset books. Her “Conceptual Photography”, which she’s worked in since the early 1980s, is considered within the new media genres of New Photography or Post-photography. Her work in this genre begins in 35mm, sometimes involves distortion, and sometimes is collaged with stills from her videos, or texts, or with found imagery or other materials. From 1978-88, she also worked as a photojournalist at New York newspapers including The New York Post and The Village Voice.
Barbara Rosenthal has made over 100 videos since 1976. She has worked in all gauges as the technology has changed. These include 1/2” open reel, 3/4-Umatic, VHS, mini-DV and HD. As in all the media she employs, her video is an “an investigation into the nature of individuality and its covalent relationships with language and culture.” 
Formally, Rosenthal’s work uses devices such as disruption, rhythm, repetition, manipulation of sequencing and audio tracks, decrease of interval, divisions on the screen, presentations of tension and release, relentlessness and endurance, which Australian art historian Barb Bolt refers to as Rosenthal’s “choreography.”
The first works, “The Haircut” and “The Bath” began with 1/2” open reel portapak partnering with Bill Creston. In 1982, she won a Festival Prize for “Helen Webster: Cancer and Self-Discovery” at the Global Village Video Festival in New York. In 1988, her videos “Leah Gluck: Victim of the Twins Experiments” and “Women in the Camps” were shown in installation at The Jewish Museum, New York.
Although all Rosenthal's work is presented in a straightforward manner, her video is the most deceptively simple. The videos are often very brief, and like her other works, consist of text (sometimes onscreen, and sometimes in a title pun) and/or performance and/or single-shot surreal photography, or straight-on cinematography. These images and texts come directly from observation of a real phenomenon often shot in the course of her real life. Then, if a more profound significance becomes apparent to her, they are presented without adulteration or commentary, either with or without juxtaposition of related footage to reveal a personal vision that is often considered political.
It is this simple exposure of real, extant phenomenon, without "artistic" additions, that reveals her world view, which often seems bleak. Nevertheless, much of it contains wry humor. It is often honed and remade, with sections added and refined over the years. One such video is "Dead Heat," which premièred at her mini-retrospective at The Directors Lounge in Berlin, June 25, 2009. It is a 3-minute piece consisting of 4 horizontal split-screen segments which were shot in different video gauges between 1987 and 2009. In each segment, a figure transverses the screen, apparently in real time, from left to right: a bird, a horse, herself, a ship. But because each takes its own time, Rosenthal repeats the transverse crossing, so they lap each other. But she has mathematically tweaked the timing, so that each figure enters the screen on frame one and leaves the screen on the final frame, simultaneously. The bird, being the fastest, repeats the traverse many times, and the ship (which was shot from her window on the Hudson), only once. The horse (ridden by one of her children across the cornfield of one of her friends) and herself (in a park in Berlin) cross at their own speed. The title, "Dead Heat", is an American pun that means a tied race, so, upon analysis, it can be understood to mean that our lives as individuals might be lived according to our own natures, but we all begin with the same first step, and we all end, together, in death.
Despite the seriousness of her themes, most videos are presented through an absurdist perspective, revealing the difficulty of true human communication. Nevertheless her work forces an attempt “to understand our entire species.”
Many of her early videos are receiving current attention. “Ola Writes the Alphabet” 1982, made with her daughter at age 3, was shown for several weeks in installation at the Stefan Stux Gallery, New York, August–September, 2013. Also in September, 2013, her 1979 piece, “Pregnancy Dreams / Priming a Wall” was revived by XFR-STN, the Transfer Station project at The New Museum in New York. In both segments Rosenthal is nude and 9-months pregnant. In the first part, a black and white stationary camera records her painting a wall during a radio broadcast; and in the second part, a transfer of Super-8 color film shot by Bill Creston, she reads scatological dreams from her Journal. This piece had received intense approbation when it premièred in 1980 at BACA Brooklyn Art and Culture Association, but is now acclaimed.
Several of her videos also depict or include the Journal, including "January 10, 1986".
Besides partnering in New York and Missouri with Bill Creston in her early videos, as well as his films, she has partnered in Berlin, Germany with DJ RoBeat for several of her videos and live performances since 2008.
In a videotaped 1992 panel discussion with critic Ellen Handy about art-making at The Gallery Of Contemporary Art in Fairfield, Connecticut, she enumerated many "dictums that guide [her] production: that pattern serve as color; that as few materials are used as possible; that as little space is used as possible; that there be no embellishment or superfluous element of design; that a work be visible and present new elements at every distance; that it engage a viewer differently from separate vantages; that it reach several centers of the psyche simultaneously; so a viewer is left room to freely associate; that mystery is always present; that it does not advocate; that it does not mimic past successes; that it can maintain its veracity in an imaginary room of great works; that it be available to everyone and that it be both produced and priced at lowest possible cost."
In 2013, Rosenthal gave lectures in Melbourne, Australia at Monash University and Victorian College of Art entitled “Authenticity in Art” and “The Medium is NOT the Message”. She said that originality should be prized, and artists not adopt anyone else’s style; that “art expresses an individual’s world view”; that an artist must mine their own observations and “produce work from their own soul and psyche,” which is the title of her 1996 book. She also insists that content, not form or medium is what ultimately communicates a work of art, but that the work not be an illustration of an already understood empiricism, but a search toward one that can ultimately be apprehended, but is still not conscious within the artist until after the work is produced.
Her methodology is that noting events in her Journal leads to insights which lead to ideas. She uses materials and people from her real life.
In 2013, Barbara Rosenthal received participation in the New Museum’s XFR-STN Transfer Station media archiving project.
In 2006, Rosenthal received an Artist's Residency from the Red Gate Gallery, Beijing  This follows residencies in 2000 at Visual Studies Workshop Press, Rochester, NY; an Amiga Computer Video Imaging Residency Grant at Adaptors/Brooklyn, NY, in 1996; three Electronic Arts Grant Video Residency, Experimental TV Center, Owego, NY in 1989, 90 and 91; a Harvestworks Audio-Video Residency, NYC in 1988 and a Video Arts Residency at Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT in 1988.
Monetary awards have included a Media Presentation Grant from Experimental TV Center, Owego, NY in 2000; Finishing Funds from Film Bureau in NYC 1991; a New York State Council on the Arts Video Facility Subsidy Grant at Margolis/Brown Adaptors, Brooklyn, NY in 1998; a Finishing Funds Grant from Media Bureau/The Kitchen in NYC, in 1988; three Artists Space/Artists Grants in NYC 1986, 89 and 90; and a Creative Arts for Public Service C.A.P.S. Grant in Video, New York State, in 1984.
Rosenthal received a Medal of Honor from the Brussels Ministry of Culture, Brussels, Belgium, in 1990; Rosenthal received a Global Village Documentary Festival Award in NYC, 1983; listing as a Fiction Writer, Poet, and Spoken Word Artist by Poets & Writers, NYC, since 1986; and elected membership in Pi Delta Epsilon National Publications Honor Society, USA, in 1970.
In 1982 Rosenthal became an associate founding member of The Women's Institute For Freedom of the Press, Washington, DC.
Publications about Barbara Rosenthal
Boyle, Deirdre, "Video Playback: Less is More, and Other Video Verities" "Sightlines", Summer 1982
Carswell, Clare, "New Life Berlin Festival : Barbara Rosenthal : 'I Think You Think. What Do You Think?'", Interface, Newcastle, UK, June 2008
Carswell, Clare, "Existential Interaction" NYArts, New York, NY, Nov-Dec 2008
Carswell, Clare, "Q&A Interview”, Wood Coin: Help Like Kelp Issue Online Sept 2008