The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross was perhaps my favorite T.V. show growing up. It was far from being a typical show children would enjoy – slow, quiet, and lacking high-speed stimulation. But that didn’t matter. I was captivated and I know many others who were as well. Bob Ross (who is only ever referred to as Bob Ross, not just Bob), with his trademark phrases, permed hair, and soft voice, was one of a kind. He made the viewer feel cared for and relaxed. The show was a joy to watch.
On the surface, The Joy of Painting was simply about painting. Bob Ross led the audience through the basics of landscape painting. Each episode began with a blank canvas and ended with a completed painting. Nearly two decades after it went off the air, though, I realize that it was just as much about lessons in living as it was about lessons in painting.
Bob Ross’s message was never just about the paint. The title indicates that. It was not called How to Paint. It was called The Joy of Painting. Bob Ross believed that anyone could paint and that artistic expression could be a therapeutic presence in one’s life. He believed it could help set your imagination on fire. Perhaps his best-known painting tip and life lesson concerned mistakes.
In painting (and life), mistakes happen. That is just the way things are. For Bob Ross, mistakes were not something to be lamented. He didn’t even call them “mistakes.” He had a more pastoral phrase: happy accidents. I remember watching the show as a kid and seeing Bob Ross make what I thought was a mistake, something bad enough to have ruined the entire painting. Surely the entire thing is ruined, I thought. Gracefully, Bob Ross would incorporate the happy accident seamlessly into the rest of the painting, allowing it to work with everything else. I remember this clip. Not a mistake, a happy accident.
As I recall watching the show as a kid or when I watch clips of it on youtube today, I realize that the show is not simply about painting, not at all. Bob Ross taught the viewer how to paint, yes. But as he taught about what makes a good painter and about how to embrace the project of painting, I can’t help but see these same lessons as being perfectly applicable to living. Life, like painting, is an artform. The show taught about the joys of painting, but from a young age, it taught me about some of the joys of living.
Enjoy some more clips of Bob Ross below and see what life lessons you find. Happy living!
The wisdom of having different brushes.
A remix tribute to Bob Ross from PBS Digital Studios.