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Polonsky was born in Lynn, Massachusetts to East European Jewish immigrants. He is a graduate of the Boston Museum School, where he studied under renowned German Expressionist Karl Zerbe. Arthur, along with many of the young artists in his circles started an art-historical movement collectively known as "Boston Expressionism". In 1947 he was a teaching assistant to Ben Shahn at the Boston Museum School Summer Session in Pittsfield, MA. He received a 2-year traveling fellowship to Paris France in 1948. There 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 important Boston Expressionist painter, and highly influential 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 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 world-wide, 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.
At age 92, Arthur Polonsky still paints and exhibits, and is the subject of a documentary feature film called "Release from Reason" which is currently in production by his son, Emmy-nominated director Gabriel Polonsky.
- Shvorin, Vladimir (April 25, 2008). "Local artist still creating: a conversation with Arthur Polonsky". The Jewish Advocate (Boston, MA). Retrieved October 2, 2009.