There are many
in the world of art who believe that oil paintings are superior or somehow
worth more than those painted using acrylics. This belief is borne out of
the fact that oils have been around longer and are the medium of choice for
many well-known professional fine artists. As well, many universities and
art schools tout oils as being the best choice for an artist to paint with
and incorrectly tell their students that oil paintings have a much longer
archival life than acrylics.
is little or no evidence to support any of the above theories. Scientific
studies have been conducted on both acrylic and oil in side-by-side comparisons
and both fare about the same under carefully controlled light, temperature
and moisture tests.
As well, it has
been shown that many oil paintings may fare worse than acrylic since many
of the ingredients used are organic and have a decay rate much faster than
acrylics which are now made from synthetic polymers.
from the 1800s are decaying rapidly and a constant need for restoration has
created an entire business revolving around this need. Restorers charge exhorbitant
fees for their work and rightly so. I can't imagine having to handle a masterwork
and recreate sections.
Some would even
argue that oils look better "due to that nice sheen they have" but with the
advent of acrylic varnishes - both in gloss and matte - that arguement doesn't
hold much credence.
Much of the current
"oils are superior" type of thinking is left over from an earlier era - the
1940s and 1950s - when the first acrylic paints came into use by artists.
At that point, acrylics were new and still evolving into the excellent product
they are today. Early acrylic paints had a tendancy to break down, lose color
and even flake off of the canvas or substrate. Many argue that oils carry
a heavier pigment load, but my own research has shown that the largest and
best acrylic paint manufacturers use the same amount of pigment (and in some
cases, more) as oil painting manufacturers. This becomes abundantly clear
when the manufacturer produces both types of products. It would be laughable
to imagine that they would, for any reason, hold back pigment on their acrylic
I've gone to
many galleries where the proprietor announces with much gusto that they only
carry oil paintings and refuse to carry acrylic. It always comes as a surprise
and, in my opinion, the loss is theirs. Imagine ignoring an entire swath of
artists whose works may better the ones they currently carry simply based
on what looks, to an informed mind, like superstition.
Talking to artists
who work exclusively in oils, one sometimes meets with the same stubborn
refusal to budge from their idealogic position. I find it humorous and at
the same time somewhat puzzling, mainly because of the constant waiting that
an artist goes through when working with oils. For that reason alone, many
oil painters will have several paintings in progress at once, which in my
opinion, leads to a loss of consistant thought processes that many artists
use working on one piece.
a new breed of artists who work in both mediums. Many use acrylics for the
underpainting but prefer oils for their final layers due to the ability to
rework areas and make corrections days later. As well, some artists will work
in acrylic only on some works because of the drying time and the ability to
layer paint quickly over older layers. Many artists (myself included) have
changed from using oils to using acrylics because of the well-known toxicity
of oils and the mediums and thinners used along side them. Most importantly,
the toxins in many oil paints and oil-based mediums are not only bad for the
environment but bad for we humans as well and can be blamed for headaches,
sinus problems and other illnesses including cancers.
In any case,
the old "oils are better than acrylics" thinking may still take some time
to diminish and fade away altogether. It is my hope that the art-buying public
will educate themselves and not be led astray by those galleries and artists
who are stubbornly living in the past. Those in the know thankfully realize
the truth and because of that fact they are open to an entire bright and colorful
world of art created in acrylic or oil or both, depending on their particular
This debate is nearly as old as acrylic paints themselves and you will get
various opinions on the subject depending on who you ask, especially
artists. Various oil painters will defend oils and an acrylic painters will
defend acrylics for the most part. I happen to like both, but choose to use
acrylics because of health concerns and the fact that they fit my style and
process. Each has their own merits and it really comes down to personal taste
for the artist using them.
same should never be applied when buying art. I only hope that those of you
who actually collect or purchase art will buy it for what you see in the end
result, not for what was used to create the work.
BY OTHER ARTISTS:
Langevin (works both in oil and acrylic)
Parrish Cookson (works primarily in acrylic but has worked in oils)
(works primarily with acrylic)
Genn (works primarily in acrylic but has a history working in oils)