Art Phillips was born and raised in St. Louis. His first job was as a flyboy with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where his father was employed as the chief photographer for a number of years. Phillips began his photojournalism career in a part-time position with United Press International while obtaining his degree from Southern Illinois University. He served as staff photographer with UPI for nearly 30 years. UPI sent Phillips all over the world to cover sporting events. He covered many Olympic games, including the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; several Super Bowls, numerous Indianapolis 500 races, World Series games and NCAA Final Fours.
In addition to sports coverage, Phillips also covered news events such as the crash of UA Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa and several visits by the Pope. Phillips was known for being ethical in not moving anything or otherwise interfering to make a better photo. He would keep his photos clean through the use of different angles and compositions. He was always quick to accept interns – at times, he would have more than one. Many interns of his went on to jobs at newspapers or full-time positions with UPI. Many young photographers benefited from his years of experience.