Joseph Keiffer was born in 1952 in New York City, N.Y. His father was a painter and his mother was a writer, which enabled the family to spend quite a few years abroad, mainly in Europe. He began painting at 17, while in Paris. The following year he enrolled at Brandeis, and after several leaves of absence to attend the New York Studio School, he graduated from college, having majored in philosophy and art history.
Following a year at Sotheby’s “Works of Art” course, he was employed by Sotheby's as a cataloguer and appraiser of paintings, and after six years there and three years at Doyle Galleries, he became president of a non-profit art foundation. In his late 30's he started painting full time, and for a living. In retrospect, he says that he learned more about the history of art from his years in the art trade than he did in college, and that he learned more about painting by looking at reality than from anything taught in art school.