On a cold evening, a few weeks ago, I turned on the television and was pleasantly surprised to find there’s a whole channel devoted to The Joy of Painting, a show which originally ran its 31 seasons from 1983-1994. Most of the episodes showcase the soothing voice and sweeping brushstrokes of Bob Ross, complete with his distinctive, permed afro which was just as wispy as the clouds he would often paint.
In the episode I settled in to watch, Bob was painting a pair of purple mountains in the background with a river snaking its way in front. The water reflected the mountains in reverse and there were trees jutting up all along the riverbank. The serene scene, along with Bob’s mellow voice, made me nestle deeper into the sofa under a blanket.
I found out later that Bob enjoyed painting landscapes which included mountains because of the decades he had spent staring at snowy peaks. Though he was born in Florida, Bob spent 20 years in the Air Force most of which was served in Alaska. It’s comical to think of soft-spoken Bob Ross as a sergeant, barking orders to men in his division as they scrubbed the latrine and re-made their beds. He said that once he left the military, he never wanted to scream at people again.
Besides his afro and painting style, Bob Ross was known for his chatter during the episodes. One of his most famous quotes goes something like, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.” But there are other Bob Ross quotes I find even more profound:
“Go out on a limb—that’s where the fruit is.”
“You need the dark in order to show the light.”
“In nature, dead trees are just as normal as live trees.”
Critics might categorize his 30,000+ paintings as nothing more than “hotel art,” but you can’t deny his appeal. When he stepped up to a blank canvas and showed all of the possibilities available to someone with a palette of colors with exotic names like Prussian Blue, Sap Green, Cadmium Yellow, Midnight Black, Dark Sienna, and Van Dyke Brown, and then you watched him make quick crisscross motions which materialized into sky and long, slender lines which became tree branches, it’s hard not to be impressed. By the time the 30-minute episode was over, Bob had created something unique. He had taken a scene from his imagination with bits thrown in from memory, and then those of us watching from home could see on the screen what he had formally only seen inside his mind.
Speaking as someone who isn’t particularly gifted in the painting department, I connect to Bob Ross and his statements about creating art in a non-paintbrush-related way. I see the title of his television program as a call to change our outlook on life. I’m never going to be the host of The Joy of Painting, but, with the right attitude, I could be the star of my own show with names like The Joy of Emptying the Dishwasher or The Joy of Rolling the Trashcans Down the Driveway. I can and should find joy in what I do today and tomorrow and the next day. It’s like Bob said, “Isn’t it fantastic that you can change your mind and create all these happy things?”