Arthur Polonsky

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Arthur Polonsky
Born(1925-06-06)June 6, 1925
Lynn, Massachusetts
DiedApril 4, 2019(2019-04-04) (aged 93)
Newton, Massachusetts
EducationThe School of the Museum of Fine Arts
Known forPaintings & Drawings
StyleBoston Expressionism
MovementBoston Expressionism

Arthur Polonsky (June 6, 1925 – April 4, 2019) was a figurative painter, draughtsman and educator, known for his explorations of light, water, flight and similarly lyrical motifs that, in esoteric and unsettling ways, alluded to myth, fantasy, music, the Bible, or the poetry of Symbolist and Modernist poets like Rimbaud and Rilke. "The dialogue between color, texture and subject is always alive" the late artist Barbara Swan Fink says of his work. His drawings, in particular, "have the excitement of a direct response to a subject, a daring use of line or tone, a sense of charged intensity. His portrait drawings not only have likeness but express a mood that is part artist, part model." [1]

Drawing visual artwork in two-dimensional medium

Drawing is a form of visual art in which a person uses various drawing instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional medium. Instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, various kinds of paints, inked brushes, colored pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, and various metals. Digital drawing is the act of using a computer to draw. Common methods of digital drawing include a stylus or finger on a touchscreen device, stylus- or finger-to-touchpad, or in some cases, a mouse. There are many digital art programs and devices.

Symbolism (arts) art movement

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts.

Modernism movement of art, culture and philosophy

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.


Polonsky was also a key participant in Boston Expressionism and, in a lengthy oral history interview for the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, an important witness. [2] The roots of the movement link to two separate, but overlapping, circles of mid-Century artists, and Polonsky was involved with both. The first was allied to Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts where Polonsky, a Museum School graduate, later taught. The second was allied to Boston's Boris Mirski Gallery where Polonsky exhibited. [2] Artists within these circles started interacting more, in the late 1940s, when many of them, including Polonsky, Karl Zerbe and Hyman Bloom, began meeting to address fears that major Boston museums were shutting out contemporary artists. [2] The meetings inspired more activism, including the formation of the New England Chapter of Artists Equity [3] and the Boston Arts Festival, with the former advocating for artists' rights and representation, and the latter providing a democratic fine arts forum in the middle of Boston's Public Garden. [4] This community organizing led not only to new arts organizations, but also a more tightly organized community of artists. The exchange of ideas and influences that resulted developed a figurative style of Expressionism specific to New England. [2]

Boston Expressionism was a school of painting that originated in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1930s and flourished through the 1950s. Strongly influenced by German Expressionism and by the Jewish immigrant experience, it is marked by emotional directness, dark humor, social and spiritual themes, and a tendency toward figuration. The painters' technique was distinctive, employing bold color and expressive brushwork, and they often experimented with unusual media such as encaustic.

Archives of American Art collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States

The Archives of American Art is the largest collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. More than 20 million items of original material are housed in the Archives' research centers in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University is one of the schools that Tufts University comprises, located in Boston, Massachusetts. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees dedicated to the visual arts. It is affiliated with the Museum of Fine Arts. SMFA is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD), a consortium of several dozen leading art schools in the United States.

Solo Exhibitions

Boston Public Library, McKim Building building in Boston, Massachusetts, United States

The Boston Public Library McKim Building in Copley Square contains the library's research collection, exhibition rooms and administrative offices. When it opened in 1895, the new Boston Public Library was proclaimed a "palace for the people." The building includes lavish decorations, a children's room, and a central courtyard surrounded by an arcaded gallery in the manner of a Renaissance cloister. The library regularly displays its rare works, often in exhibits that will combine works on paper, rare books, and works of art. Several galleries in the third floor of the McKim building are maintained for exhibits.

Danforth Art art museum in Framingham, Massaschusetts

Danforth Art is a museum and school in Framingham, Massachusetts. Established as a grassroots organization in 1975 by a committed group of community activists, business owners, educators, and artists, it invites visitors to see, learn about, create, and be inspired by art. Danforth Art educates the public through its permanent collection of American art from the 19th century to the present day, changing exhibitions of contemporary artists, studio art classes and workshops, and a variety of community outreach programs.

Fitchburg Art Museum Art museum in Fitchburg, Massachusetts

The Fitchburg Art Museum is a regional art museum based in Fitchburg, Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States.

Public Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art Academic museum in Andover, Massachusetts

The Addison Gallery of American Art, as a department of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, is an academic museum dedicated to collecting American art. The museum's purpose is to acquire, preserve, interpret, and exhibit works of art for the education and enjoyment of local, regional, national and international audiences, including the students, faculty, and community of Phillips Academy, and other students, teachers, scholars and the general public.

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park art museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts

DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is a 30-acre sculpture park and contemporary art museum on the shore of Flint's Pond in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Established in 1950, it is the largest park of its kind in New England encompassing 30 acres, 20 miles northwest of Boston. DeCordova's mission is to foster the creation, exhibition, and exploration of contemporary sculpture and art through exhibitions, learning opportunities, collection, and a unique park setting.

High Museum of Art Art museum in Peachtree Street NE , Atlanta

The High Museum of Art, located in Atlanta, is a leading art museum in the Southeastern United States. Located on Peachtree Street in Midtown, the city's arts district, the High is a division of the Woodruff Arts Center.

Honors and Memberships

The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation was founded in 1918 by Louis Comfort Tiffany to operate his estate, Laurelton Hall, in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. It was designed to be a summer retreat for artists and craftspeople. In 1946 the estate closed and the foundation changed its purpose from a retreat to the bestowing of grants to artists.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is an organization of professors and other academics in the United States. AAUP membership includes over 500 local campus chapters and 39 state organizations.

Early Expressionist Meetings

"Protest Meetings"

After returning from Europe in the late 1940s, Polonsky began attending meetings to protest Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, then known as the Institute of Modern Art. Bloom, Zerbe, Shahn, Jack Levine, had gathered to express their fears "that the Institute would ... become a showcase for ... something quite different that what we thought it ought to show and support," Polonsky said. Zerbe's experience with Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which only "owned one watercolor, and at a time when his work was being acquired quite seriously, with pleasure, by some of the other institutions," [2] stoked those fears. The meetings jumpstarted the formation of the New England Chapter for Artist's Equity.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Art museum in Boston, MA

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is an art museum and exhibition space located in Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America. The museum was founded as the Boston Museum of Modern Art in 1936 with a mission to exhibit contemporary art. Since then it has gone through multiple name changes as well as moving its galleries and support spaces over 13 times. Its current home was built in 2006 in the South Boston Seaport District and designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Jack Levine American painter

Jack Levine was an American Social Realist painter and printmaker best known for his satires on modern life, political corruption, and biblical narratives.

Boston Arts Festival

The activist artists, all connected to the Museum School or the Boris Mirski Gallery, had become a loose art club of sorts; in that capacity, they also helped organize the Boston Arts Festivals. The original Festivals, in the 1950s and 1960s, displayed fine art in tents in the Public Garden, and provided free performances in nearby Boston Common. This represented a major change in how art was presented in New England.

"It seemed like a good, exuberant, democratic, freeing kind of idea to many of us," Polonsky said. "It was very hearty, the sensations among the artists of Boston in those festivals of the first years, certainly, and the public. And much was accomplished. People like Robert Frost and MacLeish had taken it all very seriously. Productions in opera, along with that fragile tent city of exhibitions went up each year." [6]

Academic career

In the summer of 1947, Polonsky was a teaching assistant to Ben Shahn at the Museum School’s Tanglewood Program in the Berkshires. He subsequently traveled to France when awarded the Museum School’s European Traveling Fellowship upon graduation.

From 1950-1960, he taught painting at the Boston Museum School. In 1954, he became Assistant Professor at Brandeis University in the Fine Arts Department, where he remained until 1965. From 1965-1990, Polonsky served as Associate Professor at Boston University, College of Fine Arts, from which he had become Professor Emeritus. [7]

Personal life

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1925, Polonsky was one of two children of Jewish Russian immigrants Benjamin and Celia (Hurwitz) Polonsky. [8]

He had a close connection with the Newton Symphony Orchestra (NSO), having created three original works for the NSO’s program, "Art for Music," and was featured on the NSO season brochures in 1981, 1983 and 1994.[ citation needed ]

Arthur 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.

Arthur died peacefully of natural causes on April 4, 2019 in Newton, Massachusetts. He was married to artist Lois Tarlow from 1953 to 1983, who survives him. He is also survived by his three sons Eli, D.L., and Gabriel.

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  1. "Arthur Polonsky". Kantar Fine Arts - Arthur Polonsky. Sep 23, 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Brown, Robert (Sep 23, 2018). "Oral history interview with Arthur Polonsky, 1972 Apr. 12-May 21". Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
  3. Steiner, Raymond J. (Sep 23, 2018). "Artists Equity Association: A Look Back". Art Times: A Literary Journal and Resource for All the Arts.
  4. Bitely, Jessica (Sep 23, 2018). "Guide to the Boston Arts Festival Records: A Finding Aid" (PDF). City of Boston Archives and Records Management Division: Guide to the Boston Arts Festival records.
  5. "Harvard Art Museums". Harvard Art Museums. Sep 22, 2018.
  6. All of the information in "Early Expressionist Meetings" is based on the "Oral history interview with Arthur Polonsky, 1972 Apr. 12-May 21," conducted by Robert Brown for the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. (See also Endnote 2.)
  7. "Arthur Polonsky | College of Fine Arts". Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Sep 23, 2018.
  8. Shvorin, Vladimir (April 25, 2008). "Local artist still creating: a conversation with Arthur Polonsky". The Jewish Advocate (Boston, MA). Retrieved October 2, 2009.[ dead link ]