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Born in Lynn, Massachusetts to East European Jewish immigrants, Polonsky is a graduate of the Boston Museum School, where he was a student of Karl Zerbe. In 1947 he was a teaching assistant to Ben Shahn at the Boston Museum School Summer Session in Pittsfield, MA. He moved to France in 1948 where he was absorbed in the artistic ideas of Picasso, Matisse, and Redon among others. Upon returning to the States, Polonsky launched his career as an artist and academic.
From 1950 to 1960, he taught at the Boston Museum School in the Painting Department. In 1954 he became Assistant Professor at Brandeis University in the Fine Arts Department, where he remained until 1965. Polonsky was Associate Professor at Boston University, College of Fine Arts, from 1965–1990, and is now Professor Emeritus there.
Polonsky, who currently lives in Newton, Massachusetts, has had a close connection with the Newton Symphony Orchestra, having created three original works for the NSO’s unique program, "Art for Music". His work was featured on the NSO season brochures of 1981, 1983, and 1994.
Polonsky’s works are in many public collections, including The White House in Washington, D.C., The Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, The Boston Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The New York Public Library, The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, The Fogg Museum of Harvard University, The Library of Congress, The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University, and the Brockton Art Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts. He is also represented in many private collections.
- Shvorin, Vladimir (April 25, 2008). "Local artist still creating: a conversation with Arthur Polonsky". The Jewish Advocate (Boston, MA). Retrieved October 2, 2009.