Years after his death, Bob Ross is still teaching artists how to paint in his “Joy of Painting” series and many other books and videos—and yet if you’ve read my short critique of Bob Ross’s methods you know I don’t agree with how he taught painting.
I DO think it’s important to show both sides of any discussion, however, so today I’ll be posting two responses to that article: the first by Phil Marshall and the second by Thomas Robb. Both have been edited and published with permission of their authors.
Regarding the Bob Ross article. . .
Personal opinion aside, to say that simply because Bob Ross developed a way of oil painting that appealed to the masses made his art less interesting or valuable is to say that modern-day Crest tooth gel is less valuable and more of a cop-out than the old “mix-your-own” version our grandparents grew up with.
All Bob Ross did was simplify oil painting and make it easier for beginners. For those that use Bob Ross’s methods to discover the artist within themselves, they still have two choices: continue to enjoy the wet-on-wet method as Bob Ross did or develop further as an artist.
If someone chooses the first option, it’s their decision and it doesn’t reflect on Bob Ross or any other “Ross-ian” artist I ever heard of. The same critics that criticize Ross’ approach would probably find themselves among those who sneered and jeered at Van Gogh, Monet or Degas a hundred or so years ago.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but history tells us that when something “new” comes to the scene, there are always polarized views of it. Eventually the newness wears off and people hail it as extraordinary (in the case of the Expressionists and Impressionists) or simply accept it as normal.
Ross always encouraged those who had never painted to give it a try. I did almost 20 years ago, and while I agree that it is rather simplistic compared to the “layer-after-layer/long-waiting periods” approach, I still think that Ross taught me a lot about color, depth perception and enjoyment in art.
God has given me a great artistic talent and I want to use it for His glory and purposes. I want to be faithful with the gift and develop as an artist. I have done many different things, with many different mediums, but oil—particularly wet-on-wet style—has always been my favorite.
Occasionally I’ve been tempted to abandon my “Bob Ross style” roots, only to find myself returning to the idealistic, imaginary world that it brings. After all, imagination is the most powerful tool an artist has in their trade. To say that it hinders an artist’s ability to create is paradoxically unsound!
And if our job is to simply look at something and create exactly what we see and to be as exact as possible in our version of it, then we’ve limited painting and its entire history to the era of Realism.
I love Realism, but I also appreciate Impressionism and Expressionism, too. It’s high time to leave poor Bob alone and appreciate what he brought not only as a person, but as an accomplished artist as well!
Look at what Bob Ross DID, not what he didn’t do
The Bob Ross method is primarily for beginning artists that want to explore painting, but I think your article assumes that Bob Ross was trying to compete with great artists, and that’s not the case. He simply liked to paint, he developed an easy method for beginners, and he marketed his idea via PBS to provide a living for himself.
I agree that all “Bob Ross style” paintings will look alike after a person is finished, but the basics of painting are still being presented, and how far each person takes them is up to them.
Bob Ross offer fast fundamentals which allow the beginner to approach the canvas quickly without out the drudgery of painting an apple in three different light settings.
If you’re a self-starter, I think this is a good approach—figure out if you can do a simple painting (and more importantly, does it look appealing after it’s done) before investing more time and money into the art of oil painting.
For $150.00—which I thought was a little pricey but overall reasonable—I bought a Bob Ross Joy of Painting Book with 60 illustrations, the Bob Ross Master’s Kit, 4 cheap canvases, a table easel, 4 extra tubes of paint, paint thinner, and 4 other brushes.
I came home, my wife and I sat down, and we watched the 1/2 hour video, pausing on each step. By the time we were finished we’d created a beginner landscape that isn’t half bad, and my wife wants to do another painting by herself.
Since then I have been researching the web for instruction on the basics, contrast, shadowing, texturing, etc. My point is this—in just the past few days I have come upon a wealth of artistic knowledge and eagerness to expand my inner artistic self. . . and it all started with Bob Ross.
Special thanks to Phil and Thomas for sending in their opinions. Feel free to check out the original article on Bob Ross as well.
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