In Praise of Bob Ross

Older Americans are probably looking at the title of this post with a measure of disbelief, but I have to stick up for the man and his happy trees.

Now, to those across the Pond and you young’uns over here, Bob Ross was a landscape painting instructor who still graces our airwaves on our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations during the daytime with The Joy of Painting, even though he succumbed to lymphoma back in 1995.  I know the show is still on the air because I was just watching an episode while waiting for my last doctor’s appointment.

No, PBS is not desperate for programming.  There are people who have learned or tried to learn to paint using the Bob Ross technique, although I have yet to meet anybody who has.  If you have done so, please comment.  I would love to know about your experience with it.  And if you Google it, you can find a full line of Bob Ross paint products to help you with your endeavors.

It’s not just the painting that pulls people in.  It’s Bob.  You had basically one of the most mellow men on the planet using paint, brushes, a canvas, and an easel giving you half-hour meditation sessions.

You have to understand where he came from.  He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a medical records technician, and he rose through the ranks to become a master sergeant (E-7 to all the American vets).  To paraphrase what he said, he was put in the position where he had to be the enforcer, having to yell to motivate.  He vowed when he left the service that he wouldn’t scream anymore.  He also developed his quick painting technique on his work breaks while he was stationed in Alaska.  Even though I never rose through the ranks into a leadership position, as an Air Force veteran myself, I can understand wanting that sort of serenity when my career was over.

So he became the Bob Ross that we see on the screen today.  Let me share a small clip to show you what I mean.

He loved his Van Dyke brown and his stiff brushes.  Bob Ross also gave the viewer a quiet encouragement and reassurance that you did not need to pick up a paint brush to appreciate.  I never learned to paint.  I’m lucky if I can draw a circle.  But I have brain that has a very hard time switching off, and traditional meditation exercises are lost on me.  I have tried studying the raisin, and I end up eating it in 30 seconds.  Watching The Joy of Painting is as close as I can get to mindfulness.

I cannot go by without saying something about his hair.  There was power in it, if only because I wonder just how he kept it shaped that perfectly. Many have tried like:

Brian May of Queen  "Brian May Portrait - David J Cable" by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Brian May of Queen “Brian May Portrait – David J Cable” by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame  By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.

But few could do it like Bob did.

I think the reason why he is still on the air today is because of his sincere, quirky positivity.  Yes, you can laugh at corniness of the show, but it draws you in because you want to live in that world where you can just cover up your screw-ups by just painting birds over them and having some gentle father figure telling you it’s going to be OK.  Of course, you can’t cover all of your mistakes with a stroke of paint, but Bob does teach us not to get so het up about the little things.  If taken the right way, the show may just recharge your brain a little bit, so you can get back in and fight the important battles.

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