Joe Deal earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Kansas City (Missouri) Art Institute and an Master of Arts, and Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
After his graduation in 1970, Joseph Deal was designated as a conscientious objector by the local draft board and was assigned to work as a guard and janitor at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and its museum of photography.
In the 1970s Joseph Deal started teaching at the University of California, Riverside, where he helped establish the UCR/California Museum of Photography. In 1989, he became dean of the School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis. He was named to serve as provost of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island 1999, and lived there for the remainder of his life.