Bob Ross was an iconic figure from the public television world. Maybe not Sesame Street iconic or Mr. Rogers iconic but his show Joy of Painting was the most watched and most recognized art show in the history of television. It ran for 25 years with 403 episodes. But it was not the art, the technique, or the fame that made Bob Ross so appealing.
It was simply Bob Ross.
The first time I watched the show, I did not expect to like it. Here was a middle-aged man with an afro the size of small house who was painting what appeared to be dime-a-dozen oil paintings while talking to the viewers as if we were kindergartners. This was not a combination of elements I expect from a hit show. Just saying.
But I couldn’t stop watching. Turns out, it was this odd combination of qualities that made Bob Ross so compelling.
While Bob died at the early age of 52, the impact of his work lives on – especially among those of us who watched his show. For those who did not, here are some wonderful principles that Bob Ross embraced.
He created his own joy. Bob was perpetually happy. His happiness did not seem to come from an inauthentic place but was instead his approach to painting and assumedly, life. When he painted, he continually reminded the viewers that in the art world, you can create anything you want and so why not create a happy place on the canvas. We can do the same thing when we see our life as a canvas and realize that we have the ability to paint our own scenes.
His mistakes didn’t cripple him. Bob’s painting technique was somewhat unique because it involved wet-on-wet oil painting. So, as he created his landscapes, he would remind viewers that if they made a mistake in their own painting, they could simply work around it or completely cover it up with a new idea. This is not to suggest that we should cover up our mistakes, but instead, that we can use the experience of our mistakes to take us to a better place.
He had confidence in his skills. Bob would repeatedly tell his viewers to believe in what they could do. This suggests that he not only had confidence in his own abilities but that anyone could if they simply believed in what they did. Often, the critic in our heads convince us that if we try new things or pursue new goals we’re likely to fail. It seems that Bob did not view it that way but instead wanted us all to believe in our potential as a way to realize it.
He was who he was. Bob’s style and appearance was very understated. Yet, his calm demeanor and positive outlook was almost like therapy as viewers watched him create amazing art from a blank canvas. He did not try to be more gregarious or more salable because that would have been in-congruent. In today’s television world, extreme seems to be the name of the game. If you’re not outlandish, controversial, or stupid, you won’t appeal to the television audience…supposedly. Bob stayed true to who he was and had a lasting impact. I doubt that Jersey Shore or Storage Wars will have the same longevity.
We can learn a lot from Bob Ross as to how we should live our lives and pursue our work. From a Do it Well, Make it Fun perspective, he fits the bill perfectly. He did his job very well but he also enjoyed the process and made it joy-filled and fun for the viewers.