Clarence Carter was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and received recognition for his art talent beginning with his childhood. From 1923 to 1927, he enrolled in the Cleveland School of Art and earned key patronage from William Millikin, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who arranged for Carter to study in Italy with Hans Hofmann in 1927. When Carter returned to the United States, he taught at the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1929 to 1937. Carter was then asked to be the director of the Federal Art Project for Northeastern Ohio, a position he held from 1937 to 1938. Carter went on to teach at the Carnegie Institute from 1938 to 1944. He also served as guest instructor at various institutions including the Minneapolis School of Art (1949), Lehigh University (1954), Ohio University (1955), Atlanta Art institute (1957), Lafayette College (1961), and the University of Iowa (1970).
In 1931 Clarence Carter participated in the exhibition American Scenes and Subjects at the Frank Rehn Gallery in New York, which also showed the work of Edward Hopper and fellow Ohio artist Charles Burchfield. In 1936 Carter joined Ferargil Galleries where in addition to group exhibitions he had solo exhibitions in 1939 and 1941. Carter's first museum solo exhibition was at the Milwaukee Art Institute in 1934. In 1940 Carter had solo exhibitions at several Ohio institutions and at the Carnegie Museum. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Carter was a frequent first prize winner at the Cleveland Museum of Art's annual exhibition of Cleveland Artists and Craftsmen. Carter was included in the 1943 Museum of Modern Art exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists. He regularly exhibited at museum invitational exhibitions, including: the Art Institute of Chicago (1934-1948); the Carnegie International (1929-1939); the Cleveland Museum (1929-1946); the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1929-1946); the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1930-1947); and the Whitney Museum (1933-1956). Carter was given a retrospective at the New Jersey State Museum in 1974, followed by a retrospective in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1976 which then traveled to the Oklahoma Art Center; the Art Museum of the University of Texas at Austin; the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College; and the Center for the Arts, Allentown.
Clarence Carter used a watercolor technique that involved precise use of form, quick color washes and little retouching. Carter's skill in watercolor was recognized early in his career. The Brooklyn Museum of Art accepted 10 of Carter's watercolors for its 1928 International Watercolor Exhibition and the museum promptly purchased three of the works after Carter was a critical success in the exhibition. Watercolors remained an important component of Carter's output throughout the Thirties and Forties. Clarence Carter was an important member of the American Water Color Society and in 1962, served as Vice President.
Clarence Carter's work can be found in many public institutions, including: the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.