Joseph Hirsch was born in 1910 in Philadelphia. He began his formal art training at 17, when he won a four-year scholarship from the city of Philadelphia to attend the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. Later he studied in New York City with George Luks, who was a member of "The Eight," a group of American painters who rejected modernism in favor of depicting scenes of ordinary people and everyday life. Throughout his life, Hirsch's subjects focused on social commentary.
During the 1930's Hirsch's art career received a boost through employment by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Philadelphia. He completed murals for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Building and the Municipal Court. During this period he also bought an etching press and tried his hand at printmaking. Though prints could reach a wider audience, he quickly gave up etching in favor of painting. During the rest of career, however, he frequently produced lithographs of his painted works.
Along with other members of the Associated American Artists, during World War II, Hirsch worked for Abbott Laboratories, producing artworks to illustrate the war effort. His first work was the most widely produced war bond poster, Till We Meet Again. Continuing his style of capturing ordinary people and moments, he worked with fellow artist Georges Schreiber at the Pensacola Naval Air Station documenting Naval aviation training. From there he went to the South Pacific at the request of Admiral Ross McIntyre, Surgeon General of the Navy, to document the efforts of Navy medicine. Later he covered the Italian front and operations in North Africa for the Army. Those works currently belong to the U.S. Army Art Collection.
After the war, Hirsch continued his successful career. He sold his paintings through New York galleries, worked on commissions for corporations, and executed special projects such as designs for playbills. He also taught at the Chicago Art Institute, the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York City, where he taught at the time of his death in 1981. During his lifetime, Joseph Hirsch won every major award offered for American artists.