Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting

“It’s not traditional art, it’s not fine art and I don’t try and tell anyone that it is.”
–Bob Ross
The Happy Painter

“If I ran home, I got to watch Bob Ross!”
–Jason Talbot
Co-founder, Artists for Humanity

Bob Ross was a fixture on public television for years. His show The Joy of Painting was seen on nearly every PBS station in the United States. The shows, as The Best of the Joy of Painting, have been rerun and are still on even though Bob Ross died of lymphoma in 1995.

What was Bob Ross? Artist? Painter? Instructor? Businessman? Salesman? Fundraiser? Advocate? Motivational speaker? Crazy character? TV icon? Choose any; he was all of the above.

Ultimately, what was he trying to say? He is quoted several times in The Happy Painter that his goal was to teach non-painters a technique that could be mastered in a short time with a low chance of failure and allow anyone to “put a dream on canvas”.

Critics leveled a number of charges at Ross: his technique was simplistic and unrealistic; his subject matter varied only between basic landscapes and basic seascapes; he was more about business than art, using the painting to hawk his personal line of art supplies; a streak of mawkish sentimentality ran through his shows. While each charge may be debatable, the continued success of Bob Ross even 17 years after his death is proof enough his formula continues to strike a chord with viewers, painters and nonpainters alike. People still watch, paint, take Ross-style classes from certified instructors, stock up on his brand of art supplies and accept his sincerity when he signs off from television heaven: “I’d like to wish you happy painting and God bless, my friend.”

The library carries several of Bob Ross’s Joy of Painting books and a detailed three hour workshop DVD. For more information, go to Ask your local PBS station about the 2011 documentary, Bob Ross: The Happy Painter for show times and information on obtaining a DVD.

Matt Pettit

Matt is a Public Service Specialist for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. His areas of responsibility include outreach library services to nursing homes, senior, retirement and congregate living centers; service to homebound library users; the Kansas Talking Books service; Book Group in a Bag program and the history and sports neighborhoods of the library’s nonfiction collection.