But Benton was never comfortable with abstraction and struggled to find his artistic vision. Wolff notes that as late as 1917, “Benton didn’t possess a coherent principle of art…. To not know if one was a figurative or abstract painter was to not know the most fundamental thing about oneself.” Gradually, his art evolved in a representational direction that Wolff calls “modernist realism” and focused on American life and subject matter.
Starting in 1929, he began to depict the American experience through monumental wall paintings and his efforts presaged the revival of mural painting in the following decade. In 1929-30, for example, he painted a series of “America Today” murals for the New School for Social Research (now displayed in the AXA building on New York's Sixth Avenue). In 1932, he did a series entitled “The Arts of Life in America” for the Whitney Museum of American Art (now in the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut).