Today I re-introduce Bob Ross to my five-year-old daughter. She is mesmerized!
Sign of the times that she gets introduced to Bob Ross on a computer screen through a video on Youtube.
Instead of the classic way so many of us first encountered Bob Ross. Surfing channels on broadcast tv as a kid. The TV set allowing us one of the places where we can freely explore the full landscape of what’s on TV. During that adventure of exploration, a man would appear on the screen. Soft-speaking, creating happy paintings with little trees.
Finding Bob Ross was a personal discovery on your own. I would sit transfixed watching him transform paint into majestic mountains. Finding him in this way would make him your own personal Bob Ross. You discovered him tucked away. You didn’t really know of other people watching him, because nobody really talked about Bob Ross. He was your own.
Back then Bob Ross was not some sort of cult favorite. “The Joy of Painting” was just another show on your local PBS station. No branded t-shirts. No ironic backpack patches of Bob Ross smiling with his afro. Just a simple tv show you’d discover.
Today I happened to have a Bob Ross video playing on my second screen while doing work. My five-year-old daughter walked in. She was immediately attracted to what was playing on my computer. First off, because it’s a video playing. As any kid, she’ll be attracted to a video playing like a bugs to a light. But then also because it’s Bob Ross. She’s watched him once before, where did expressed a fascination for his work.
(Actually, this is the second time she watched Bob Ross. It’s been a while since the first.)
For reference, this video is “Majestic Mountains” (Season 4 Episode 3). In this video, Bob Ross gets very philosophical at the 16:23 mark. Artist @beckyjewell tweeted these screenshots from the episode:
I found much joy in being able to have my daughter watch Bob Ross paint. Then my two-year-old walks in, and she wanted to sit on my lap and watch. Of course, you are more than welcome! Now I have both my daughters on my lap watching Bob Ross. Oh, it was wonderful. It’s like when all the world just comes together, and all is good.
Afterwards I reflected on this by posting several tweets about it.
Today’s first encounters with Bob Ross are a bit different than the 1980s and 1990s
I realized how my daughter’s first encounters with Bob Ross were quite different than my own. My parents didn’t introduce me to Bob Ross. (Although since my dad was an art professor, and my mom a Montessori school teacher; they would have been more likely than other parents to introduce their child to Bob Ross.)
Bob Ross was simply a quiet little show on PBS. A show that you’d discover on your own through your personal act of freedom to explore TV channels.
Today I’m grateful that I can play any Bob Ross show at any time via YouTube.
His show occasionally plays as a live stream on Twitch, so you can watch and participate in a live chat about specific moments in the show. Such a feeling of community! It’s literally people talking about the show as it’s playing. A far cry from the quiet moment of discovery when you were a kid, just watching the show by yourself.
Will fine art museums embrace Bob Ross?
I hope that fine art museums will find a place for Bob Ross in their collections and exhibits. Although part of me is ok that museums haven’t embraced Bob Ross. To have Bob Ross included in the “official” canon of art, would mean that his artworks exist on a completely different level. Being Art with a capital A would put his work on a high pedestal. His work is so completely the opposite of that. It’s artwork that is completely accessible. Art you can easily discover and embrace.
And now I get too much into what an art museum is…. but museums first place the art high. And you, the viewer have to lower the art down so you can embrace it, and make it your own. I completely support the viewer lowering the art down. That’s what I do every time I visit the Art Institute of Chicago.
I have many methods where I interact with the art to make it my own. Lowering the art down can be as simple as taking a photograph of the art with your cell phone. Now you have the art in your pocket.
Also the act of framing the artwork, cropping it, finding interesting small parts of the painting to focus on. Being creative with photographing the art from the side to capture light reflections. Using a kaleidoscope lens on your camera to refract the art into amazing compositions.
Sometimes I bring objects into the museum to try to match them up with paintings. Baseball cards with autographs. Which painting matches the loopy style of this autograph? Which painting matches the jagged spikes on this autograph? Or I’ll bring a handful of Hot Wheels cars. Can I recreate a painting with the color palette of various Hot Wheels in my pocket?
Anyhow, for me, I enter a museum to lower the art down. Bob Ross is certainly accessible and fits that mentality.
Bob Ross is art ready for embrace
No matter how you discover him, Bob Ross is there for you. In the 1980s and 90s he was right there in your living room on your TV. And now he’s there on your phone via Youtube or Twitch. He’s always welcoming you to make the art with him.
The Modern Artifact gallery on Artsy says about Bob Ross, “Bob Ross kept a democratic, open attitude, claiming that anyone can paint regardless of talent, only if they are ready to practice enough. We don’t make mistakes, just ‘happy little accidents,’ he used to say. And the people loved him for it.”
Indeed we do love him for it. I’m glad to introduce Bob Ross to the next generation of artists.