Bob Ross is a legendary historical figure in American pop culture. Between 1983 and 1994 his PBS television series The Joy of Painting taught viewers of all ages how to create colorful landscapes with oil paint. Bob used a "wet-on-wet" painting method, coupled with his nature-inspired memories from living in Alaska, to help teach painting techniques to his audience, while simultaneously opening their mind. There seem to be two schools of thought on the legacy of Bob Ross: Those who admire his painting and teaching techniques, and those who consider his methods to be tricks designed to show viewers how to paint in a specific manner which can't be translated in any other way. Was Bob Ross genuinely helpful to artists? In my opinion, very much so.
Some of my earliest memories of being exposed to art were from Bob's soothing voice and easy-to-learn style. In fact, I still own some of his step-by-step books. Recently, I noticed that Bob's estate is running a Bob Ross Youtube channel through which full episodes of The Joy of Painting are being uploaded on a daily basis. I've been watching in my free time and still find them to be enjoyable and helpful. Listening to Bob Ross as an adult gives me new insight into his life experiences and how he used painting as a conduit to convey his personal truths to the world. Bob Ross taught how to create the illusion of spacial distance using vibrant colors and a strong understanding of light sources. Bob Ross also took the time out to explain why he created certain colors, chose certain brushes to paint with, and why he was applying the paint in a certain manner. In conjunction with this, the way he taught does well to open the viewer's mind not just to painting itself, but to a way of thinking about life.
In the embedded episode, "Autumn Glory," Bob explains that when painting a mountain, each highlight is flat without it's adjoining shade and one can't live without the other. That is a wonderful truth about life! Our internal highlights are only highlights because of their adjoining shade. We are human because we experience both rapture and struggle, but we can't experience anything without personal creation. At some point while living close to nature in Alaska Bob got it. He realized that all of our internal questions can be answered by connecting to the external world.
To Bob Ross, each canvas was a world that we were free to do anything with. He wasn't just teaching painting techniques, he was conveying a viewpoint about the universe. There's a reason Bob Ross has remained so popular for over thirty years. While his critics profess that he taught tricks and that his methods weren't technically sound, his warmth as a human continues to overwhelm his naysayers. It's part of why The Joy of Painting is still shown in reruns. Bob also taught how to complete paintings within a half-hour using a method that people could reproduce on their own. We don't need to overthink everything. Sometimes we just have to get out there and create some serendipity, or as Bob liked to call it, happy accidents.
This post was originally published here.