Elaine Lustig Cohen studied at Newcomb College at Tulane University in 1945/46, and completed her BFA at the University of Southern California. She has worn many hats in her career- artist, graphic designer, art dealer, and archivist. Her experience and knowledge in each of these fields has been mutually influential, forming a complex interweaving between art history and her personal creative endeavors. She is an inheritor of modernism- in her early graphic design, abstract painting, and the collage aesthetic of Dada and Constructivism. The collage work in particular continuously explores the possibilities and graphic juxtapositions of typeface, shapes, colors and their interplay with photography. The photographs have generally suggested the direction the collages take in their aesthetic style and overall gestalt. Cohen's collage materials are often found in flea markets, frequently in Mallorca, where she lives in the summer. Japanese maidens, senoritas, and bourgeois families all find their way into a graphic environment which both responds to and forms the meaning of the visual image. Whether on assignment or working for herself, there is a playfulness and a surety to all of Cohen's productions. For the last several years Cohen has used and mastered various digital techniques which have made their way into her work.
From the 1970s until around 1998, she maintained a gallery called Ex Libris on the Upper East Side, which she founded with her second husband, the publisher and author Arthur Cohen. The gallery was well ahead of its time in the handling of avant-garde books, posters, collages, paintings, and decorative arts. Through 1985, Lustig Cohen worked in large scale abstract paintings, although she also created decorative objects including boxes, a sewing kit and hats. Later she began to use found photographs and ephemeral material collected over the years to create witty and complex collages. She has had five solo exhibitions at Julie Saul Gallery including a retrospective survey held in 2007/2008 in conjunction with the Pavel Zoubok Gallery commemorating her 80th birthday. Most recently, Lustig Cohen has completed a series of portrait collages carried out in the styles of various modernist artists.