Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting in the ’80s and ’90s, but really, painting was just a medium for the world to experience the joy of Bob Ross. His peaceful paintings and gentle mannerisms are relaxing, and the final product, which the viewers are encouraged to make their own version of, is always beautiful. Ross makes a point of encouraging people to make their own version rather than recreate what he’s making exactly. Interspersed between the instructions of how to paint along with him, Ross adds narration about his own life and experiences. He complains, lightheartedly, that he doesn’t get enough time on the air to do everything he wants to do. He tells stories of growing up in Florida as he paints fluffy grass. That sends him onto a tangent about why he doesn’t eat chicken. But none of it feels wrong or out-of-place. Just like an in-person conversation would flow naturally and may drift far from the original subject, so does Ross and his show. When it’s time to move on to a new part of the painting, Ross finds a new topic to discuss.
Ross is always very certain to assure viewers that they cannot make a mistake. When he’s trying to teach a technique, he explains common frustrations and how to fix them, but he never calls other ways wrong, phrasing it more as a “here’s what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.” He’s always quick to encourage viewers (or their art supplies, or the subject of their painting) to go with the flow and find what makes them happy. That low-stress, everything-will-work-out attitude is what has made him so popular in recent years. He encourages his viewers to be silly (“Troon! If you don’t make those little noises it don’t work.”) and have fun with their art rather than worry about perfection. He’s inspired a generation of artists to approach their art that way, and he will likely continue to inspire artists for a long time in the future.
Bob Ross never worried about perfection, but he didn’t need to. He already was.