Viola studied at Syracuse University in the state of New York, focusing on painting and electronic music. In 1973 he received a bachelor's degree in experimental studies here.
Viola has spent long periods of time in most parts of the world, studying culture and natural phenomena in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, the Solomon and Fiji Islands in the Pacific, the Canadian wilds, Himalaya in India and various places in Japan. In 1980 he began an apprenticeship with painter and Buddhist Zen master Daien Tanaka who remained his teacher.
In 1995 Viola was the USA representative at the Venice Biennial with the installation Buried Streets.
Bill Viola is a Doctor of Fine Art from Syracuse University, Institute of Fine Art, Chicago, California College of Arts and Crafts, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia and University of Sunderland, England.
Bill Viola has participated in a large number of exhibitions throughout the world and his numerous solo exhibitions include Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1992), Guggenheim SoHo in New York (1997), The Art Institute of Chicago (1998), Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2001), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2002) and The National Gallery in London (2003).
Bill Viola is one of the most significant contemporary video artists and his influence on the development and recognition of the medium is substantial.