He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Walnut Hills High School and went to University of Cincinnati. In 1953, he attended evening classes at The Art Academy of Cincinnati taught by the influential instructor, Paul Chidlaw. Dine received a BFA from Ohio University in 1957.
He first earned respect in the art world with his Happenings. Pioneered with artists Claes Oldenburg and Allan Kaprow, in conjunction with musician John Cage, the "Happenings" were chaotic performance art that was a stark contrast with the more somber mood of the expressionists popular in the New York art world. The first of these was the 30-second The Smiling Worker performed in 1959.
In 1962 Dine's work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Dowd, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Wayne Thiebaud, in the historically important and ground-breaking New Painting of Common Objects, curated by Walter Hopps at the Norton Simon Museum. This exhibition is historically considered one of the first "Pop Art" exhibitions in America. These painters started a movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world. The Pop Art movement fundamentally altered the nature of modern art.
In the early 1960s, he began attaching objects, particularly tools of autobiographical significance, to his canvases. Job #1 from 1962, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, which incorporates paint cans, paint brushes, a screwdriver, and a piece of wood is an example of such a pop art work. These provided commercial as well as critical success, but left Dine unsatisfied. In September 1966 police raided an exhibition of his work displayed at Robert Fraser's gallery in London, England. Twenty of his works were seized and Fraser was charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, Dine's work was found to be indecent but not obscene and Fraser was fined 20 guineas. The following year Dine moved to London and continued to be represented by Fraser, spending the next four years developing his art.
Returning to the United States in 1971 he focused on several series of drawings. Since 1976 Dine has been represented by The Pace Gallery. In the 1980s sculpture resumed a prominent place in his art. In the time since then there has been an apparent shift in the subject of his art from man-made objects to nature.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts purchased six works by Dine, and in 1983 he was a juror in “The Next Juried Show” at the VMFA, judging prints and drawings. The juried shows at the VMFA were a series of biennial exhibitions covering all areas including Communication Arts, Craft Media, Painting & Sculpture, Photography, Video Arts, and Prints and Drawings, each on an every-other-year schedule. “The Next Juried Show” was the last of the series, however.
In 1984 the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, exhibited his work as "Jim Dine: Five Themes". 1987 saw the publication of the book Jim Dine: Drawings 1973 - 1987, to coincide with a touring exhibition. In 1989 the Minneapolis Institute of Arts hosted Jim Dine Drawings: 1973–1987. In 1983, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1994.
In 2004 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. organized the exhibition "Drawings of Jim Dine." In the summer of 2007 he participated in the Chicago public art exhibition "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet." In Canada, he first exhibited at the Galerie de Bellefeuille alongside artists Chuck Close, Tom Hopkins and Jennifer Hornyak in 2009. Dine also exhibited regularly with the Alan Cristea Gallery in London and had a show there in April 2010.
Dine previously worked on a commercial book, paintings, and sculptures that focused on Pinocchio.
Another large bronze sculpture of Pinocchio by Jim Dine exists near the entrance of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Located at Washington State University in the city of Pullman, Washington, the Technicolor Heart is a 12 foot tall silicon bronze sculpture painted with oil enamel in the shape of a heart. It is one of 31 pieces of art on display on WSU's campus. This statue, inspired by his earliest memories of work, is painted blue and is covered in hand tools. The Technicolor Heart was acquired in 2004 for $391,440 by the Washington State Arts Commission, which is a state government agency established in 1961, for the State Art Collection.
Dine's work is part of numerous public collections including the British Museum, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Honolulu Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.