Kadhim Haider studied literature at the Higher Institute for Teachers; in 1957 he earned a diploma from the Institute of Fine Arts. Between 1959 and 1962 he studied theatre design at the Central College of the Arts in London. Upon returning to Iraq, he taught at the Institute of Fine Arts, opening a department of design. He continued to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts, when it replaced the Institute of Fine Arts; his book al-Takhtit wa Elwan (Sketching and Colours) became standard reading for students there. In 1971 he organized a group called the Academicians, based on an exhibition and around a text he wrote reclaiming a Platonic notion of the academy as a way to relate the different arts to each other, and to the arts of the past. He served as president of the Union of Iraqi Artists, the Union of Arab Artists, and the Society of Iraqi Plastic Artists.