Carter studied at the Cleveland School of Art from 1923 to 1927. Following graduation, he studied with Hans Hofmann in Capri,Italy, for the summer of 1927.
Throughout the 1930s and 40s he was known for his paintings of rural America and the burden brought on by the Great Depression. By the end of World War II he had adopted a more surrealist approach to painting. In 1949, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full member in 1964.
Carter's work is found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; theHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the James A. Michener Art Museum; the Cleveland Museum of Art; theSmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; the Yager Museum of Art & Culture, Oneonta, New York; and many others.