Acrylic controversy raised again…
Several articles have appeared in popular magazines and picked up by blogs that once again raise the controversy that Plastics degrade, acrylics are a plastic, therefore acrylic paintings are going to degrade. I was reminded that in 1992 I wrote a letter to Charles Osgood who did one of his poems and a segment on CBS about this issue after reading 3rd hand reports from a conservation program about Space Suits beginning to deteriorate. Again in 2016, I have to again defend these materials. Thankfully after these ensuing 24 years even more information has been researched and written about the lightfastness of the acrylic polymer. I thought I’d share my letter which seems to address exactly the same issues raised 24 years earlier. (No response from Mr. Osgood)
November 14, 1992
Mr. Charles Osgood
513 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Dear Mr. Osgood,
I am sorry I have never written before, because I have so often enjoyed your commentary and I am a great fan of yours. I apologize, now because the reason for my correspondence is not for your years of wonderful observation, but alas to complain about a very recent piece you produced regarding the degradation of modern materials.
You noted the work on the space suits deteriorating by Dr. Mary Baker of the Smithsonian. It is a very ironic situation that these marvels of science, produced to withstand seemingly everything and even things we had to invent in our imagination, could not withstand chlorine from a swimming pool and time. Yet, you ended your story with an mistaken idea that has had very serious consequences for me and my company, Golden Artist Colors, Inc., a manufacturer of artist acrylic paint. You ended your commentary with a statement that oils have lasted 500 years and that acrylics would last only decades.
I was at the conference in Washington at the American Chemical Society where this paper and others regarding polymers in museums was given. Although you may have an AP reporters version of the conference, there was no indication that acrylics would last only decades. There were papers presented indicating that the same conservation and preservation techniques used with oils would not be appropriate with acrylics. In this observation I hardily agree. During a review of paintings at the Modern in New York, it was found that acrylic paintings have stood up quite well especially in comparison to oils completed at a similar time. We know quite well that oils yellow, crack and cleave, and that they last 500 years is due to the profound influence of the dedicated conservators who have preserved, inpainted and protected these pieces.
Since acrylics have actually only been available for artists since the late 1940’s, I do not have real time evidence that suggest acrylics will last 500 years. Ageing studies though, looking at artificially aged oils vs acrylics, have shown that the acrylics have remained quite stable in comparison. Acrylics possess a remarkable trait, as opposed to most modern and ancient polymers, in that they remain quite transparent to the damaging effects of Ultra violet radiation. It is this fact that has propelled acrylics into the sphere of the professional artist.
Our belief that modern plastics are simply a cheap imitation of the real thing is quite difficult to overcome since there are so many indications that this has been the case throughout the history of plastics. Our feeling about plastics are further shaded by their negative impact on our environment. That plastics simply do not degrade and will remain a permanent fixture on our planet….. Please hold that thought!
A Plastic Nightmare
I heard your commentary the other day
and it left me feeling much dismay
about the problems with plastic space suit rotting
who would have thought they would even have spotting
They were made to withstand meteors and gasses,
cosmic rays, fire blaze, acid sprays and splashes.
But now the Museums are filled up with fright
That suits made with such care won’t even last the night
Now cold storage won’t do, that just makes things much worse
As if that’s not enough, you go on with your curse
To tell us that the modern paintings we cherish
If they’re done in plastic, they too will soon perish.
To this I say wait, you’ve got me confused
Aren’t our plastics simply misused.
If the plastics we trash are filling our landfills
We should be going there and grabbing our handfuls.
If the plastics in our landfills won’t disintegrate
But the plastic on our paintings simply just can’t wait
Wouldn’t it be easy to just reverse this mess
And throw away our paint and just use all the rest.
If by the error of science our diapers won’t degrade
Might I suggest that that one could be swayed
To believe if we try we could make a new plastic
if painted on a canvas would be just fantastic!
I think we have. Thank you for your time.
Mark Golden, President
Golden Artist Colors, Inc.