Born in Brooklyn, Held dropped out of high school and joined the Navy at 16, serving from 1945-47. In 1948 he studied at the Art Students League in New York, and from 1950-53 invoked the G.I. Bill to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Held returned to New York at the height of Abstract Expressionism and its related philosophical discourse, in which he took part. However, the genesis of his later work was already forming; as he said at the time: “I want to give abstract expressionism structure.” Characterized by the intellectual rigor with which he approached his work, Held was ultimately a painter of ideas.
His work has been exhibited at institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Steledjik Museum in Amsterdam.