Born in New Delhi, Arpana Caur spent her college years studying literature; as an artist, she is largely self-taught. Her work can be seen to continue the line begun by Amrita Sher-Gil. It is feminine and feminist in its perspective, with portraits of women placed in a contemporary urban context. The erotic is downplayed in favor of the sturdy: Gayatri Sinha states that, in her paintings, "There is no hint of an expressive sexuality; woman and nature are both symbiotically tied in a circle of perceived threat and uncertain renewal." The other major concerns in her work include time, life and death, the environment, and the violence of man on man (like Hiroshima, the Partition of India, and the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs). She has created several large non-commercial murals on subjects relating to the environment in Delhi, Bangalore, and Hamburg. Caur's work responds to the surroundings and events of her life, from the crowded Patel Nagar of her childhood to events such as the rape of Maya Tyagi and the widows of the Chasnala mining disaster.
Punjabi literature influenced Caur's artistic perspective, and writers such as Shiv Batalvi, Amrita Pritam, and Krishna Sobti were visitors to her home. The literature and philosophy of Punjab contributed to the strains of melancholy, mysticism and devotion that may be felt in her work, while the Pahari miniature tradition provided inspiration for Caur's manipulation of pictorial space. Despite her diverse influences, however, Caur's subjects remain firmly rooted in the quotidian world of the woman, showing women engaged in commonplace acts such as daydreaming or typing.