Why I and so many young adults love Bob Ross

In my freshman year of high school, I attended a Creative Writing elective class that hosted a diverse mix of varying ages, talents, and perspectives. All of this was overseen by a calming and gentle breeze of a man that I am proud to say I have maintained a friendship with to this day. And while our class had its own many trifles with creativity and other affairs, one of the many things that always transfixed all (most) of our attention to the head of the room was when the projector was playing an episode of The Joy of Painting.

Bob Ross, a man with a brown afro and blue dress shirt, stands against a black backdrop and paints a blue forest.
A still from The Joy of Painting Season 10 Episode 4

The Joy of Painting is an instructional TV show hosted by painter Robert Norman Ross, better known as Bob Ross, who for a blissful twenty-six to thirty minutes an episode made his viewers feel confident and comfortable as he taught them the technique of wet on wet painting. It ran from January 11, 1983 to May 17, 1994, but reruns of its episodes continue to play on public television, the streaming service Twitch, and numerous other outlets.

As you may know, The Joy of Painting, and most specifically its beloved host Bob Ross, has become a particular Internet sensation over the past few years. What with the continued running of the show — especially with a weekly rebroadcast on Twitch spurred by a nine-day streaming binge that was viewed by 5.6 million people — the Internet became exposed to this wonderful human being who had graced the world with his presence and left it all too soon.

Oh, those days back in freshman year. Simpler times. Creative Writing, where sometimes our teacher would pull up a Bob Ross video and a hefty majority of the class would sit at fuller attention than during any lecture (although the class was fairly lax and to even say it had lectures would be an exaggeration). Something about Bob caught our attention, gripped us and enticed us into the simple but spectacular fact of some soft-spoken guy painting trees and mountains and speaking positive messages.

Perhaps those things of themselves were tantalizing enough. But why?

Bob Ross, a man with a brown afro and blue dress shirt, stands against a black backdrop and addresses the camera.
A still from The Joy of Painting Season 19 Episode 10

In the past two years of my life, Bob Ross has had an astonishingly significant role, especially considering that it is a posthumous one. I even have a bobblehead Bob Ross and a little book of some of his quotes, both of which were gifts. My grandma even owns a Bob Ross calendar for 2020.

An unprofessional, dim photo of a copy of the book titled "Happy Little Accidents".
A book I own a copy of, “Happy Little Accidents: The Wit & Wisdom of Bob Ross”, by Michelle Witte

I’m a very new writer in any sort of official sense, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had a lot of previous practice in being creative. Any and all projects required me, at a fundamental level, to be in the proper state of mind to even get any quality work done. While this headspace is possible to attain through other means, such as introducing myself into a socially productive environment like a library or uninteresting classroom, one of the easiest methods to acquire it when I am at home is to watch Bob Ross.

By no means is Bob Ross some clean-and-simple, works-every-time solution to a procrastinator’s ills. But when I dedicate myself to actually being productive, Bob is a gentle facilitator that helps get the ball rolling. This is especially true when I want to work on writing imagery in a scene, as his words of color and landscape subtly stimulate my mind into thinking more creatively and descriptively.

For many, myself included, music usually fills that gap. But sometimes music, regardless of the genre or style or mood of the song or playlist you select, is still just not what you need to help your mind settle. It’s at those times, when music and silence are both not enough, that Bob Ross’s soothing voice peculiarly finds itself among the hymns of my many muses.

What about when I’m not even working? Watching Bob Ross paint also does a lot more than simply help me be productive. In fact, it can help me do the exact opposite of that: relax.

This point is one where I think a lot more people are going to personally relate. Bob Ross, the indirect predecessor to ASMR, is an incredible sleep-aid.

In the foreground, a Bob Ross bobblehead sits on a laptop keyboard while a video of Ross plays in the background.

I myself have never actually fallen asleep watching a Bob Ross video. But based on countless comments on the videos of The Joy of Painting YouTube channel, many people have.

Whether you’ve had a stressful day at work, a good one, are just feeling down for some inexplicable reason, or are at any other emotional variation, Bob Ross can probably bring you to a calm and happy mood. That mood, which you gently sink into as he encourages you and creates a beautiful painting right before your eyes, is so soothing. You can ride it to a blissful slumber, to a creative pursuit, or in any other joyous direction that you so please. That is the power of Bob Ross.

But where does that power come from? I love Bob Ross. A lot of people love Bob Ross. But what is it about the man’s benign and beautiful nature, his uplifting and empowering message, his wholesome way with animals and his incredible talent for painting that is so dang enticing?

I’m sure we both know that one could write some exorbitant number of pages about the many problems of today’s world that our newer generations are increasingly hyper-aware of what with the proliferation of information technology. So to put it simply, the world sucks in a lot of ways, and Bob reminds us how to be happier starting with ourselves.

Bob’s goal through the entirety of his painting career was to teach people that absolutely anyone can paint. During episodes of the show, he loved to take time to showcase the work of others who had learned from him, and these educated painters ranged from young kids around five or six years old to folks from as far as Japan. He firmly believed that anyone could paint, and the ways that conviction has manifested explain many of the things that draw viewers in even today.

For one, a very common point that Bob made was that everything on the canvas was your world. You were the creator. Even though he was giving you a demonstration of how to make a specific painting, you had the freedom to do anything that you wanted. If you didn’t want mountains, you didn’t have to add mountains. If you wanted more trees, you could add more trees. If you wanted something to be a certain color, you could make it that color. The painting was yours and you didn’t need to be afraid to experiment. That’s how you would discover something really amazing. Mistakes didn’t exist; you had happy accidents and worked with whatever happened. The possibilities were endless to what you could create, and you could do anything. He knew you could.

In addition to being a positive message about painting and artistic liberty, this idea really scratches a bad itch in the back of many people’s minds. In a world where in so many ways we can feel out of control in our own lives, seeing this man tell you that you can create your own world, your own beautiful world, and have it be anything that you wanted is such a heartwarming and powerful thing. Bob captures the essence of expression that many artists themselves seek to pursue, the notion of sovereignty over who you are and what your life is like. Although it is really just what it is, a guy telling you that you can paint anything, we can’t help but be motivated to do even more.

The weight of Bob’s beautiful message is carried even further by the fact that he was in many other ways just a lovable guy. With an Afro that few white guys could rock, a love for animals that he frequently featured on the show, a giddy laugh every time he beat the devil out of the brush, and so many other adorable quirks to his personality, Bob was and is like the fun uncle just about everyone wishes they had. Calmly witty, making wholesome jokes and saying silly things as he painted. Talking about his love of animals and nature, showing you Peapod the Pocket Squirrel, Hoot, Mr. Jay, Falky, and so many more cute creatures. Discussing the beauty of Alaska, how God was having a good day when He made that place, and, with it all, teaching you to step outside and appreciate the natural world. As you reflected on how you hadn’t really looked too closely at that tree outside your apartment window even though you’d lived there a year and a half, he’d throw in a joke about how he’d once gotten chased around his yard by an angry tree. You’d smile and continue to take in the wonder.

These things are what appeal to all of Bob Ross’s current fans, and I’m sure they’re what appealed to his fans back when he first started his painting career. Bob is a beacon of some perfect, simple hope that a lot of people need, and it’s nice to return to him to relax and settle our minds into a more positive place. Maybe he isn’t a god (as some fans would half-joke), but he is an incredible person.

And really, that’s all we need. So thanks, Bob. Wherever you are now, I hope you know you’re still making so many people happy.

Anyway, with that, the ol’ clock on the wall says we’re about out of time. I hope you enjoyed this blog post about the one and only legend himself, and I appreciate your taking the time to read my take on things. Happy writing, and God bless, my friends.

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