He was born in New Plymouth and was educated at New Plymouth Boys' High School and Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland. While studying he worked part-time in a car spray-paint shop, an occupation which introduced Smither to the use of lacquer-based paints.
In 1959, Smither returned to New Plymouth, working part-time in arts-related jobs. His first solo exhibition was in 1961. In 1963 he married Elizabeth Harrington, who is better known as New Zealand Poet Elizabeth Smither. The two have three children, Sarah, Thomas and Joseph.
Smither works in a variety of media - notably oils, acrylics, and screenprint - and on a variety of subjects. Domestic life is a major theme of many of his works, these scenes depicted with a rigorous yet idiosyncratic realism. A similar style is brought to his landscapes, many of which depict the Taranaki landscape around which he grew up. At least two of his paintings, The Family in the Van and Rocks with Mountain  have attained the status of iconic paintings in New Zealand.
His first solo exhibition was in 1961.
- 21 Piano Pieces (1968–1978)
- Four Pieces for violin and viola (1974)
- Geometric Scores for piano (1975, revised 1976)
- Polyphonic Chords for four players (1980); originally intended for 4 cellos
- Cello for Pamela Gray for solo cello (1981)
- "hello i cool" for flute sole (1952)
Michael Smither had many books of his art, with just one of them being Michael Smither - Painter.
- City Gallery Wellington; retrieved 18 February 2009
- Works in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
- Michael Smither at the Centre for New Zealand Music
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