Although Bob Ross passed away in 1995, his artistic and cultural influence continues to flourish in today’s pop culture. Ross’ fame has remained constant since the creation of his TV show, “The Joy of Painting.” Millennials and Gen-Zers are sincere fans of Ross and his beautiful paintings, despite the fact that Ross died before many of them were born: that, in itself is a testament to his modern impact. What makes Ross, his ’80s perm and his landscape paintings so familiarly timeless? Why does the persona of Bob Ross seem to transcend generational gaps?
Before Ross’ successful artistic career began with the airing of his TV show “The Joy of Painting” in 1983, he had a successful, but quite stressful career in the Air Force. “The job requires you to be a mean, tough person,” he told the Orlando Sentential in 1990, “and I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.”
Ross’ art show had a successful decade-long career, with the filming of new episodes only ending after the artist’s death in 1994. Simply by watching an episode of “The Joy of Painting,” one can easily tell that the production had a low budget. The backdrop in most shots was a plain, black sheet and the only props were an easel, the canvas and Ross’ assortment of painting tools, including his infamous painting knives. Ross himself displayed equally minimalistic attire in terms of his appearance, typically dressing up in a blue button-up shirt and jeans.
However, the appeal of Ross and his show was not in the set, or even in his physical appearance (excluding his iconic perm afro). Rather, the allure of “The Joy of Painting” lied in the calming, laidback presence that Ross exerted in his words and paintings. While guiding his viewers through the steps of completing a painting, Ross spoke as if he was having a one-on-one conversation. His way of speaking created an intimate atmosphere between him and his viewers, causing the artist to seem more like a friend rather than a distant TV show host.
Ross drew in, and continues to draw in viewers further with his encouraging words and positive one-liners. Although Ross was a skilled artist, he never expected perfection from those painting along in their homes; in fact, he encouraged mistakes. Ross made the process of painting relatable by comparing it to a variety of life experiences.
With good-natured quips like “We don’t make mistakes — we just have happy accidents” and “Beauty is everywhere, you only have to look to see it,” Ross injected a ray of sunshine into the TV universe. He seemed to treat the enterprise as a therapeutic form of escapism. “I can create the kind of world that I want,” he said in one episode, “and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”
In recent years, a new generation has embraced Bob Ross and his calming presence as a means of relieving anxiety. Through his show, Ross has taught young adults to let go of their regrets and embrace the messiness of life. Ross provided a safe haven from the turbulent darkness of the real world. Although Ross never really faded out of the public eye, even after his death, there have been major revivals of all things Bob Ross: T-shirts, decorative patches and, of course, paintings.
Ross’ popularity has resulted in a revival of “The Joy of Painting” episodes, both on TV and streaming networks such as Netflix and Hulu, effectively making his calming presence available to millions. Ross’ show has even been used in school classrooms to calm down stressed out and hyperactive students, as his voice seems to reach even the darkest spaces.
Without a doubt, the famed artist’s voice is an anxiety reliever. The recent trend of autonomous sensory meridian responses, or ASMR, in which listeners receive enjoyable physical feelings from certain sounds has taken notice of Ross. The benefits of ASMR are surprising: listening to ASMR videos can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, stress and depression. Ross’ soothing and relaxing voice has been deemed prime ASMR material, making him “the king of tingles” according to some connoisseurs. A simple Google search of the term ASMR reveals Ross as one of its top practitioners.
Millennials and Gen-Zers are dedicated to Ross in more ways than one. They have embraced Ross’ simple, yet profound, catchphrases, and his quotes now adorn a wide variety of memorabilia, from T-shirts to coloring books to socks. Buzzfeed published an article titled “20 Essential Life Lessons From Bob Ross” with the subtitle “Who do we talk to about getting Bob Ross canonized already?” which lists key inspirational quotes from “The Joy of Painting.”
Although the article gives off a feeling of comedic irony, just the fact that Ross is the subject of a current news article exemplifies his influence on young adults. Traces of Ross’ influence can also be found on social media, predominantly Twitter. The “official” Bob Ross Twitter account has over 13,000 followers and tweets famous Ross catchphrases. Typical of the Twitter universe, a Bob Ross meme account has also appeared and contains fictional observances from Ross’ point of view (that is, if Ross was a millennial skater boy).
The cheerful and chill persona of Ross has endured over the decades because of his positivity, allowing his fans to relax and at least momentarily forget about their anxieties. Ross serves as an intimate encourager, and even though he passed away over 20 years ago, his words are still as influential today as the day he first spoke them.
“If you listen closely to Bob’s programs, he never says ‘I’m going to teach you this,” Anne Kowalski, Ross’ business partner, said. “He never assumes that he knows more than you do. He says: ‘We’ll learn this together.’ And I think — even though people don’t realize it — I think that’s what his big turn-on is.”