“I don’t know whether it’s art or not and I don’t care. What I wanted to show was the energy and rush and confusion of American life.” Thomas Hart Benton in The New Freeman Feb. 18, 1931.
Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosha, a small Missouri town, the son of a congressman. From 1907 to 1908 he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago followed by three years at the Academie Julian in Paris. It was there that he met the artist Stanton Macdonald Wright a leading exponent of Synchronism, a movement concerned with the abstract use of colour. Settling in New York in 1912 Benton worked in this style for a number of years before taking up Regionalism in 1920. It was in this idiom that he gained his reputation.
The artist was interested in the way small town life was in decline as the big cities became the focal points for the development of America as an industrial state as opposed to an agrarian one. Although never feeling at home in the city he was fascinated with the symbols of urban growth such as skyscrapers and modern
machinery. He completed a number of murals at the New School for Social Research in1930 to 1931 with ‘America Today’ particularly winning great success. In1935 Benton left New York and relocated in Kansas City, Missouri where he remained for the rest of his life teaching and painting.
In many ways similar to Grant Wood, Benton captured the mood of 1920s America as it entered this period of enormous growth. Documenting the city from the viewpoint of the man on the street he conveyed the doubts and uncertainties of the average citizen as the scenery was changing so dramatically.