The Joy of Painting: Exploring the Life and Legacy of Bob Ross

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Who is Bob Ross, or rather, who was he? During the 80s and 90s, he was an artist who specialized in painting, hosting an instructional painting show on PBS called The Joy of Painting. Though Bob Ross has long since passed on, one will find that he still inspires many an aspiring artist in the present day, all ranging from the young to the old, his legacy living on in his “happy little trees,” one of his more famous catchphrases that referred to his vibrant landscape paintings he was most known for. One may find though, that despite his international claim to fame for being an exceptional artist, there are those who believe that Bob Ross does not, or should not, be regarded as an artist. This observation is not too entirely strange, for with great reputation comes minor opposition, although many could argue that to discredit someone as an artist, especially one as well-known as Bob Ross, is unspeakable. Even still, this phenomenon is a rather interesting one to note, one that through research and analysis can produce educated theories and speculations on how and why of what possibly leads someone to arrive at this point of view.

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The first side of the argument, being that Bob Ross is indeed an artist, is likely the more popular viewpoint. Looking at what can be defined as art in the modern-day, Bob Ross had a pretty decent handle on it. As fluid and subjective art can be, even it has a few rules to follow, something which Bob Ross seemed to take with stride. He had an adequate understanding of color and form, key traits the most accomplished artists tend to have. He also knew how to go with the flow, knowing that while art can have guidelines, it should also be flexible enough to stray from these guidelines, to create something one never would have imagined before, or as what he referred to them as “happy little accidents.” It was also thanks to this easy-going nature of his that allowed him to reach the artistic hearts and souls of his viewers and fans. One could say he made art less scary for those who wanted to give it a try but were unsure of themselves. He had a presence about him that allowed him to put others at ease, even through a television screen, which enable others to be able to follow along with his painting tutorials with feeling the pressure that many art instructors typically exude. Therefore, it seems to be at no surprise that someone who does exceptional work and has an approachable aura would be considered a good artist.

The argument in favor of Bob Ross being an artist has many valid points, which makes one wonder why there is a view opposing the idea. There’s no denying that Bob Ross was skilled in his work, his skill, however, this fact itself may be the main reason for the opposition. It seems that the concerns stem from Bob Ross’s teaching methods. Those “happy little trees” of his, the most well-known feature of his work, were a key indicator of his methods. At first glance, they look like typical trees, but when compared to the real thing, there are clear differences, in structure and form. When reflected upon, one may realize that Bob Ross never used real-life references for his paintings, he only relied on his imagination to paint. Not to say that this is a bad way to make art, though it may not be the best way to teach beginner artists. The thing about Bob Ross’s choice to only draw from his imagination is that it doesn’t offer much room for improvement and growth. As a result, a lot of the individuals who followed under his instruction more or less ended up producing near carbon copies of his style instead of branching out to find their own. When given thought, it’s no wonder some do not see Bob as a real artist.

Looking at both sides, it is without a doubt that there are valid cases for why each side feels the way they do. But I think, with all things considered, that Bob Ross was indeed a true artist. He had a great deal of skill for his craft. He was able to create something so beautiful and unique that people were drawn to it in ways that he probably never imagined. Of course, his art was not the only driving force behind his popularity. It was also the way he was able to make people feel like they could do the things he did, that it was okay to make mistakes, that they didn’t have to be perfect on the first try. I think that’s what makes him an artist, and a great one at that. Maybe his methods aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and perhaps were just meant to be a kickstart into the world of art for beginners, but that alone shouldn’t be enough to discredit him. He inspired a generation of artists to follow their dreams, and that’s why he has become such a legend and major art icon.

Art as a whole is a complicated subject that does not strictly follow every rule and regulation all the time. There has never truly been a “right” way to make art and Bob Ross was one of the few who understood that. Whether or not one agreed with his approach, it’s clear as day that he made an impact on the world for the time he was on it, a feat not many are able to accomplish in a lifetime. There are many artists today who credit their success to the artists they looked up to and were inspired by, Bob Ross being one of them. It’s not just the art style or method that makes an artist, but it’s the way they affect others and how they contribute to the world at large. This statement, from one’s perspective, is what truly makes an artist.

Works Cited

  • Foster, A. (2018, February 12). Bob Ross: Why Millennials are obsessed with painter. Retrieved from
  • Gotthardt, A. (2018, February 15). How Bob Ross Became Everyone’s Favorite Art Teacher - Artsy. Retrieved from Artsy:
  • Hajek, D. (2016, August 29). The Real Bob Ross: Meet The Meticulous Artist Behind Those Happy Trees : NPR. Retrieved from NPR:
  • Is Bob Ross Helping or Harming Artists? Look at the Bob Ross Painting Method. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Prisco, J. (2019, September 10). Bob Ross, the TV painter, is finally being recognized in an exhibition - CNN Style. Retrieved from CNN:
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