David John Cunningham's interest in art began early due in part to the influence of his older brother and a cousin who are also artists. When David was 16 he started attending classes part-time at The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art, a traditional art school that adheres to a stringent French academic tradition as well as taking classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After graduating high school David entered a four year apprenticeship at The Atelier.
Training at the Atelier began with a series of exercises in black and white charcoal drawings of plaster caste busts, before progressing to more difficult things such as still life, portraiture and the human figure in paint. Concurrent with these exercises was the study of life drawing to hone his ability to depict the human form.
After completing the program David took up studying landscape painting while living in southern Argentina and became tuned into the 19th century tonalist painters George Inness and James Mcneil Whistler. Their atmospheric paintings along with the works of countless other painters, musicians, photographers, and writers continue to influence his work.