Born in New York City, Gussow studied art at the Pratt Institute before graduating from Middlebury College in 1952. While studying painting at Cooper Union the following year, he was awarded a Prix de Rome, making him the youngest ever to receive the award at the time. He was also honored with the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Art in 1977 and with more than 50 one-man shows.
In addition to being recognized as a painter, Gussow was a voice heard nationally for environmental advocacy. He entered the world of activism playing an instrumental role in stopping the proposed Con Edison destruction of Storm King, fighting to preserve it in its natural state. He went on to advise senators Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern on environmental issues, to found and inaugurate the artist-in-residence program for the National Parks Service, and serve on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Earth. He taught all over the country at institutions including the Parsons School of Design, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Sarah Lawrence College, and Middlebury College. His many written works include the books A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land and The Artist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism.