Few of the programs on American Public television ever drew anything like a cult following. And yet Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting is still a phenomenon today, 25 years after its last show was aired. Ross’ simple message of seeing the positive side of life via his simple, practical painting techniques turned each of his viewers into not just artists, but reverent appreciators of the world around us, with all its accidental beauty and blessing. His most famous quote “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents” succinctly summed up his philosophy towards painting, and life as well.
Ross began painting while in the military, evidently as a way of blowing off steam — his rank required him to act as a disciplinarian, a role which did not come naturally. His languid, accepting and cheerfully mild-mannered approach on TV years later promoted the opposite attitude. In his book (also called The Joy of Painting) he wrote: “Water’s like me. It’s laaazy…Boy, it always looks for the easiest way to do things.” Note that this is a direct echo of chapter eight of the Tao Te Ching:
It is best to be like water…(water) does not contend, nor struggle to do so…Therefore water is very similar to Tao. Because it dwells even in low places, it is of benefit to all.
One could say that Ross’ fluid, creative and generous nature mirrored the nature of water, and of course paint itself. Though he died in 1995 at the young age of 52, his life continues to enrich those of his viewers. Recent Bob Ross marathons have been featured on TV on his birthday (October 29) and his shows are now on Netflix and YouTube.
If YouTube comments are anything to go by, it seems that even people utterly disinterested in painting can find great inspiration in watching Ross. Some examples include: “Not all heroes wear capes,” “This is the most wholesome man in existence,” and “This cures my depression.” Not bad for a mere painter of “happy little trees.”
As Bob often said, “Load some color into it.” Words to live (and paint) by, are they not?