Barton Lewis was born into a family of artists and teachers in Urbana, Illinois, and started making films in the 4th grade after his parents gave him a Super 8 movie camera. After graduating high school from the North Carolina School of the Arts he moved to New York where he received a B.M. from The Juilliard School, studying music composition with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. He then went on to receive a B.A. in English literature from Columbia University.
Barton briefly pursued a career in musical theater after college, but devoted himself to filmmaking full-time in the 1990s. His films deal with natural light and its interaction with various materials and elements, such as metal, wood and water, and with the urban industrial landscape in states of opulent decay.