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Are Oil Paintings More Valuable Than Acrylic?

You’re an artist wanting to sell your art, or you’re an art collector looking for the next, best art purchase. There’s a constant debate about whether oils or acrylics are better. For artists, a lot of this comes down to preference. Using oil versus acrylic is like using a crayon versus a colored pencil. For art buyers, there’s a clear difference when looking at an oil painting versus an acrylic painting. They’re different mediums. So, we naturally start to wonder. Are oil paintings more valuable than acrylic paintings? Or vice versa?

Oil paintings can be priced higher and perceived as more valuable than acrylics, but the true worth of paintings has nothing to do with the type of paint used, but instead with the quality of the work, the size of the painting, the notoriety of the artist, and other factors.

When we talk about the word “valuable,” we’re talking about something that’s worth a lot of money (source). That’s tricky to figure out in regards to art though? What exactly makes a piece of art valuable? What factor contributed to Picasso selling his work for hundreds of millions of dollars while other artists are lucky to get $100? 

There is no cut and dry answer to whether oil paintings are more valuable than acrylics or vice versa.

Oil paintings aren’t inherently more valuable than acrylic paintings. There are a lot of factors at play that have led to their higher prices.

Oil paints date back to the 7th century CE and became the standard for painting in the 15th century CE (source). Compare this to acrylic paints which weren’t even introduced until the 1960s (source). 

This means that the majority of our painting history is tied to oil paints. If you walk through many of the famous museums, they are filled with oil paintings. Acrylic paints didn’t even exist. Of course, these oil paintings are prestigious, incredible, and highly valuable. 

Once acrylic paints were invented, they were new to the art scene and had a LOT of historic oil paintings to stand up to. 

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Are the oil paintings in the famous museums valuable because they are made with oil paints? Or, are they valuable because of their age, creators, and overall historical importance? 

Is it even fair to compare the type of paint used for a painting created in the 15th century versus one created in the 1960s? No, there’s a lot more going on than the debate between oil versus acrylic paint. 

The Mona Lisa is a 2’6”x1’9” oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503. In 2020, this beauty was worth $860 million dollars (source).

mona lisa

Is that worth tied to the substance of the oil paint itself, or to the fame of da Vinci, the legacy it carries, it’s history, and artistic excellence? You can decide for yourself.

As Vox discovered, art is generally purchased by the very rich and their decisions influence the market. In addition, it’s hard for galleries to make names for themselves and for artists to get the credit they deserve.  Those with big opinions and prestigious pocketbooks being able to make the call about what art is valuable and what art isn’t (source).

Not to say that famous art isn’t valuable, but who’s to say that less famous art isn’t just as valuable? The people who have enough money to buy it, I guess.

Like many things, the art world is full of money and politics, which we have to deal with.

The professional art world is full of a lot of money, prestige, status, and fame. Yes, there are valuable paintings and they happen to be oil paintings. My take is that they happen to be oil paintings because oil paintings have historically been around longer and they’ve had more time to age and develop their fame. 

The professional art buying and selling world is a crazy place. It’s a place that many of us won’t be invited into, for better or worse. 

If you’re like me, you’re an artist who isn’t worried about becoming the next da Vinci, but simply wants a shot at selling a painting or two at the farmer’s market. In that case, what will serve you better? Will oil paintings or acrylic paintings be seen as more valuable and land you more money?

A scan through the Etsy listings for both oil paintings and acrylic paintings shows that they’re fairly evenly matched. There isn’t one clear winner.

The fact that both types of paintings would be similarly priced makes a lot of sense. Acrylic paint is a norm these days and it doesn’t get a bad rap with everyday art consumers. I mean, I’d rather have a painting I like made out of acrylics versus one that I don’t made out of oils.

I imagine most people would agree. 

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From the artist’s standpoint, there is a caveat here.

Oil paint is usually more expensive than acrylic. This means that costs should be a bit higher in order to recoup the cost of the materials. Not millions of dollars higher, but something within the double digit range.

Ok, so if oil paintings and acrylic paintings are basically on an even playing field, what should we take away from this? Well, one one my biggest takeaways is that posterity is king. Some of the most expensive and “valuable” paintings are also the oldest.

So, if you want to create a “valuable” painting, pick the paint that will last the longest and stand the test of time. If you can create paintings that will last for many hundreds of years, you’ll have a better shot of your art being appreciated for longer. And, short of fame, it’s neat to have artwork in good condition that can be passed on for many generations.

How Long Do Oil Paintings Last?

Oil paintings can last for a very long time if properly taken care of. It’s important to keep them out of direct sunlight and cover them in a layer of varnish upon completion to prevent the paint from fading or cracking.

If the Mona Lisa is any indication, oil paints can last many many years. I mean, da Vinci’s painting dates back to the 1500’s when oil paints were first invented. She still looks pretty good to me! Make sure to apply your varnish properly and seal the entire surface. Even natural contaminants in the air can damage your oil painting if you don’t seal it properly (source). 

Also, putting your painting in the proper place away from sunlight is key. Have you ever wondered why museums are dark and window-less places? But, you don’t have to get rid of all of your windows to protect your art. For more information, make sure to read my full post about protecting your art from sun damage.

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How Long Do Acrylic Paintings Last?

Acrylic paint has only existed for the past 70 years, so the full longevity of it is still unknown. That said, acrylic paintings from the 1960s are still in good shape. It’s important to varnish your acrylic paintings and protect them from sunlight to ensure they last as long as possible.

We’ll need to wait a few hundred more years to see if they last as long as oils. Hopefully there will be time machines by then, or our brains can live in jars, and we can somehow be witness to how this important question eventually gets answered. 

Regardless, it’s important to take care of your acrylic paintings so they can at least last the 70 years that those original acrylic paintings have lasted. Be sure to do a proper coat of varnish on your acrylic paintings and take precautions to place them away from direct sunlight.

At the end of the day, make art that you enjoy making. Oils, acrylics, watercolors, who cares. The most valuable art will be the art that you’re passionate about making and put your heart and soul into. 

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History has favored oil paintings, but they were first to the game by many hundreds of years. Acrylics have taken the art world by storm given their relative newness. I have no doubt that the professional art world will start to favor acrylics, especially as they become more prominent and more and more artists start to adopt them. 

Whether oils or acrylics, go forth and create great art!

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