Reinhardt studied art history under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University, New York, from 1931 to 1935 and studied painting with Carl Holty and Francis Criss at the American Artists School from 1936 to 1937. He also studied at the National Academy of Design with Karl Anderson in 1936. Between 1936 and 1939, Reinhardt worked for the WPA Federal Art Project. From 1937 to 1947, he was a member of the American Abstract Artists group. Reinhardt continued his studies from 1946 to 1951 at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts.
Reinhardt taught at Brooklyn College from 1947 to 1967, and lectured at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, in 1950; the University of Wyoming, Laramie, in 1951; Yale University, New Haven, from 1952 to 1953; and at Hunter College, New York, from 1959 to 1967.
His first solo exhibition was at Columbia Teachers College in 1943, and from 1946 was exhibiting regularly at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. From the early 1950s onwards he began to limit his palette to a single color, moving from red to blue and then to his final stage of black paintings.