Ross, who died at age 52 in 1995, was known for his serene demeanor and equally serene landscapes. He has become a cultural icon through THE JOY OF PAINTING, which aired on PBS from 1983-1994.
His calm nature and catchy phrases such as “happy accidents” or “happy trees” made him a household name. His encouraging words to aspiring artists and belief that everyone could paint helped make him the legend he is today.
“We have avoided painting for so long because I think all of our lives we’ve been told that you have to go to school half your life, maybe even have to be blessed by Michelangelo at birth, to ever be able to paint a picture,” Ross told his viewers on that first episode. “And here, we want to show you that that’s not true. That you can paint a picture.”
“It’s not some high-brow gallery telling you that Bob Ross is great,” Nelson told ABC News. “This is the masses, the population in the world, that are saying that Bob Ross is great.”
Actor Owen Wilson, who played the Bob-Ross-inspired Carl Nargle in the 2023 comedy PAINT, said of the famous artist and his ability to connect with people today:
“It’s just a quality that he had: that kind of encouraging, supportive quality you would hope to find in a good teacher. And also the act of painting, doing something creative: for human beings, that feels good.”
Though not affiliated with any particular faith, people have remarked that with his message of positivity, Ross exuded joy—a fruit of the spirit often mentioned in the Bible.
“C.S. Lewis, a Romantic by sensibility, identified joy as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction,’ a longing for and a foretaste of the world to come,” Andrew Petiprin wrote on the Word On Fire website. “It is no surprise that real joy is often associated with particularly imaginative types like Lewis; and in the second half of the twentieth century, the word attached itself to the most famous television artist of his age, Bob Ross.”
Petiprin continues, “Since Ross’ death in 1995, he has become one of the best-known icons in American popular culture, burned into our memory thanks in large part to his famously frizzy hairdo. Few would dispute that Ross radiates ‘joy,’ however you define it.”
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