Dan Flavin was born April 1, 1933 in Queens, New York. Flavin attended parochial school and prepatory school for the seminary in Brooklyn. In 1953, he enlisted in the Air Force where he trained as a meteorological technician. While working as a meteorological aide, Flavin began making and collecting art and visiting museums in Washington D.C., and New York. In the late 1950's, Flavin attended Columbia University and studied Art History.
Flavin first showed an interest in fluorescent light in 1961, the same year he began to work on his "Icons" series. In the "Icons" series, incandescent and fluorescent blubs are attached to shallow, square box forms, often made of various materials such as wood, Formica, or Masonite. In 1963, Flavin began working with fluorescent light alone, as seen in his Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy (the Diagonal of May 25, 1963), where Flavin positioned a fluorescent light at a diagonal on a gallery wall.
Flavin's art is often ascribed to the Minimalist movement, although he never approved of the term. His close friends at this time were Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre. The minimalists created objects that defied conventions of both paintings and sculpture, a quality that distinguishes Flavin's fluorescent light construction.