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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Bob Ross: no offence, honest!

Well, not that honest... I've had a little spat on the Painters' Online website. Suggested that one of the paintings posted was very obviously of the Bob Ross school; the painter herself took no offence, and very reasonably pointed out that she might never have started painting at all if it weren't for the Bob Ross workshops locally. But another contributor, I think it's fair to say, did take offence; not least because I had (I thought rather gently) suggested that a previous painting of hers might be improved.
Tricky business, this art criticism lark. The wise man eschews it. A word, though, about Bob Ross. He was a US ex-serviceman who took up painting, had a tv programme, and pursued what he called wet-in-wet oil painting, which involved laying a coat of very liquid titanium white on a canvas, and painting into it with colour. As a method, there's nothing very special about it, other than that if you aren't careful how much oil you mix with the initial coat you run the risk of the paint film cracking later on. Or yellowing. Or both. It isn't so much the method of applying the paint that's the problem, as the utterly predictable results the Bob Ross approach produces. He very rarely painted from life; most of his pictures were entirely from his own imagination, and his imagination seemed to live entirely in Alaska, where he had been based when in the forces.
And so he became a virtual production line of basically the same half dozen paintings; which wouldn't matter so much except that all the Bob Ross "instructors" throughout the world (it's turned into a big business) just replicate these not very good paintings; and their students produce versions of those same paintings; and so you seem them everywhere, lovingly crafted no doubt, but of a landscape which they've never seen... So you get the sea with waves formed in exactly the same configuration as the master employed; trees that are ... well... Bob Ross trees, rather than any species you could identify.
I don't complain if a painting isn't very good; some of mine aren't brilliant (feel free to contradict here); but I don't see any point at all in just copying a copy of a copy of a work that wasn't all that great to start with.
If you see a painting - and you must have - of a range of mountains with a lake in front of them, a yellowish/pinkish sky, trees of a sort of indeterminate breed, and grass painted as though it were minced leaves of cabbage, you have a product of the Bob Ross school. The method goes round in circles and gets nowhere; and what annoys me about it is a) that the students learn nothing worth knowing, and have to make a real effort to break with the method if they're ever to produce anything original of their own, and b) that the instructors within the great Bob Ross empire get to put CRI (certified Ross Instructor) after their names, as if it were an academic qualification.
Now, Bob Ross was not a bad man; from all I've read of him, he was a very good man, and died tragically early. He was an engaging broadcaster, in the sense that he had an extremely relaxing voice and friendly, approachable manner. But - he has been, in my not so humble opinion, an appalling influence; his tutors perpetuate this influence; and I wish there were other places for people to go to learn how to paint well. Under present economic conditions, night schools, tech college courses etc are thin on the ground. And you can't blame - even I can't blame - the Bob Ross empire from filling in the gap. But those wanting to learn to paint would do far better to buy a good book, or subscribe to one of the several art magazines, than sign up to good ole' Bob and his "happy little tree" approach to painting.
Still; each to their own, I suppose...
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  1. Hi Robert, just to say you have always been very kind with your comments towards my paintings on the Painters-Online site. I only paint and post for fun, but your kind words have given me confidence to continue painting. My experience on the Painters-Online site helped me to return to a class and even go on a weekend workshop sketching my favourite subject trees out and about in the real world (Not just from photos).

  2. Very cheering to read that I've actually managed to encourage someone; one contributor on POL found me snobbish (because I can't bear Bob Ross, I think) and thought I'd posted a "negative comment" on her work because I'd criticized it. Well, I sure won't bother to comment on her work next time, but do wonder why she bothered to post it if all she wanted was praise. It's the trouble with the Bob Ross approach (and some others): they deliberately over-praise, as much to validate their teaching as for any other reason. I think I was a bit naive to suppose that I could say that without raising the hackles of the followers of these approaches, but I think POL is a serious site, not a society for the massaging of ego.. Ultimately, we can obviously paint how and what we like, but once you enter the world of exhibition & publication, you can expect to be criticized .... those who don't like that have the remedy in their own hands: paint away, but do yourselves and the rest of us a favour: keep it under wraps.
    I get quite annoyed, you know, (annoyed Robert: you??) by those who have no sense of introspection at all - they're lucky to have avoided the critic of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, when they tried their hand at playing jazz in a band: "can yow take criticism?" (for this was in Birmingham) .. "Well, yes," they said, hoping for a helpful word to steer them in their future endeavours; "Yes, we can. What did you think?"
    "Oi think yow're crap."
    It's a cruel world. One just has to be strong. Or talented: talented's good.....

  3. 'Tis a cruel world out there...hard to be different...but then I care not what others think of me...

  4. Robert, Nowt wrong with being snobbish - it's what keeps us special - being entirely unsnobbish would mean accepting the lowest common denominator. That means suburban, burger chomping, ITV viewing, Radio 2 listening, Next shopping consumerism. No ta Ade

  5. Hi Robert, I both agree and disagree with you about Bob Ross, but hey – the man has to make a living! Bob Ross was a good teacher problem is everybody paints in the style of Bob Ross, as you correctly say in some was he was an ‘appalling influence; his tutors perpetuate this influence’.
    People became interested in art through watching his show; that can’t be a bad thing. I must disagree with your comment about learning to paint, in my opinion you cannot teach a person to paint you can show a person how to paint but not teach. You are correct in your comment about signing up to good ole' Bob and his "happy little tree" approach to painting or any other programme with similar teachings. There I said it – teachings – even I fall into that trap every now and again! Painting is a personal thing, for me it comes from within, my own thoughts and observations. Can I add one thing to the list of places ‘tutorials’ (I like that word, more adult than lessons) can be found, YouTube. It’s amazing what unknown and well know artist will put here for everyone to see – for free.
    All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.

  6. I think Bob Ross criticism generally focuses on entirely incorrect premise of what Bob Ross style of painting really is.

    It's always been and always will be about the joy of creating something with your own hands, rather than any attempt to create 'art'. It's more a form of therapy - and it certainly was that for Ross himself.

    Just because the end product vaguely resembles landscape art doesn't mean it should be treated and criticized as such.

    People with artistic talent and interest to pursue art will eventually move on to different methods. People who paint along just for the therapeutic reason will keep on doing so. Either way, Joy of Painting has fulfilled its purpose.

  7. Probably not expecting a comment on something this old, but I'll leave one here in passing.

    I can agree that some of the criticism is true but one thing that strikes me the wrong way is the manner in which you dismiss painting without a basis, even if it is in a landscape format. Sure, you can paint a landscape (I prefer the term copy there) exactly as it is and be a good artist, but you will not be great. Imagination is what I feel makes a painter great. Those "happy little trees" existed in Bob's mind as much as Dali's images in his, or Picasso's paintings. I have a hard time believing, as well, that every painting done in the Bob Ross style look exactly the same. I've done my share of copying (or forgery, study purposes only though, I even mark them such) and I have to say, if they exactly replicate said painting/drawing, they must be extremely skilled. It's really hard not to add a personal influence or to recreate something that never existed to begin with.

    Well that was my opinion on this.

  8. Imagination should be the basis for CREATIVE work, should it not? And I beg to differ with you about the Bob Ross Trees. Being from BC, and as someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors, I've seen lots of trees that, from a distance, look very much like Bob Ross trees. I always thought that he had a great ability to create quick, easy landscapes that actually DO look surprisingly realistic! His ability to create realistic trees, mountains, and reflections in water with a few simple brush strokes made him amazing.

    I believe that the majority of people who dislike Bob Ross are actually jealous of him, and to quote an over-used phrase: "haters gonna hate." I think they are jealous because his simple, every-man style of painting, that is based on creativity and FUN/JOY, is far more popular to most people than their chosen style of painting.

    Bob Ross, when it came to painting, did not create paintings to be revolutionary, or to be masterpieces, or to be worth millions. Instead, Ross painted simply because of his LOVE of painting, and his love of nature. He wanted to share this love with the world, and he was able to do so in a calm, peaceful, and friendly manner, that drew people to him. Unlike many in the art world, those of the so-called "true art" world, Bob Ross was against elitism and snobbery, believing that everyone and anyone could paint a picture, and that it was okay to make mistakes and not be perfect while doing it. He made it so that anyone could pick up a brush and have fun while painting, just for the sake of painting: an enjoyable hobby!

  9. Thanks for commenting on this quite elderly post; I don't have much against Bob Ross himself, although his mentor, Bill Alexander, did (and Alexander was probably the better painter of the two). But both are long dead: what I have a great deal against is the Bob Ross school of painting - not the huge commercial empire that is Bob Ross Inc; I don't want anything to do with it, for a variety of reasons which I won't bore on about here - I've probably said it up above and elsewhere anyway - but the many 'tutors' who have taken up the method, and know no other - they proliferate on YouTube.

    Whether Bob's trees look like those in BC - 'from a distance', which I found interesting, but never mind - I wouldn't know; I've not been there (would like to, but haven't). What I'm pretty sure of is that they don't look a thing like trees in Surrey, Dorset, or Northumberland: and yet the Bob Ross 'certified instructors' not only teach a method of painting which is as alien from the experience of most of their students, and themselves, as if they were painting a Martian landscape, they insist upon a template tree/mountain/bush/sky/sea which is entirely divorced from anything their students might see in this country and in most of Europe.

    Does this matter? Well, in one way no. If painting is just an enjoyable hobby, then it doesn't matter a lot what you paint - maybe. (And then again, maybe not.) But if you want to paint 'seriously' - an awkward word, but it implies you want to learn about painting for its own sake rather than just for your own - you're not likely to learn much from Bob Ross tutors; but you are likely to pick up all the bad habits of the school and be impeded in expressing your own vision.

    I don't see the point in painting just like Bob (any more than I'd see the point of wanting to paint just like me). But that's ALL you're going to learn from this very restricted, unimaginative method which actually discourages people from going out to look at the world around them.

  10. You can't blame Ross. You have to blame the "students." All throughout his program he said "We're not teaching you to copy, we're just teaching you the techniques." He's said that (along with all his other quotes) COUNTLESS times. As far as him painting strictly from imagination...that's not entirely correct because he's also said many, many times that he goes out with his camera and takes pictures for ideas--"I got out hunting with my camera" is one of his many quotes. He has also said he paints scenes based on pictures and postcards submitted to him by friends and viewers.

    He explains different brushes (and their uses) and techniques, and how certain colors blend. He also talks about what certain practices will produce and what can be done in many different situations. Never have I gotten the "This is how you do this and that" from his program so the issue is really with the unwillingness of the "students" to expand what they've taken from the show (in my humble opinion, of course).

    We also have to take into account that he was a traditional painter as well. Someone said that you have to paint from your own visions and observations. Well, Bob has also said countless times that people need to go out and observe nature, and to really take in and appreciate the world around them, wherever they may be. "If painting teaches you nothing else, it teaches you to look at nature. Take some time and really go out and look at it. You'd be amazed at what you'll find, and what you'll paint." So when people (not you, sir) bash Bob for his work or the "Bob Ross Method" as they call it, it goes beyond me because I've seen just about every show he's ever done and I don't think he could've pushed the "Don't do what I do" agenda any more solid that he did during the course of the Joy of Painting series.

    Good day, everyone (:

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    3. I so agree with your comment! I know this is a rather old post, but since this show has been released on Netflix recently, I've been reading discussions on the opinions on Bob Ross and his techniques. I personally enjoy the show and if you really listen to what he is saying, can be very helpful when layering any art (even digital art, which is my main medium). Now, of course you can't learn everything from him alone, and you'd have to take it upon yourself to learn different techniques and understand the basics (like the color wheel, hue, value, lighting, shading, etc.). Basically, try to pay attention to Bob Ross, and don't fall asleep to his soothing voice because you can gain some valuable tips and tricks from the show!

  11. I realize this post is several years old at this point, but I found your blog after searching for artist's opinions on Bob Ross. I agree completely with your evaluation, and have always wondered why his paintings never left me as inspired as other artists. I think you're right that it's because he's not painting anything specific, it's just a general landscape with general trees etc.

    My question though is how does one start to learn to paint? I have always wanted to learn to paint, but I tend to learn best with some instruction. In my life I've traveled a bunch and have countless photos that I would love to paint to capture the particular beauty of the light or grandeur of the vista or whatever the moment is. But I have absolutely no idea how to do that. If Bob Ross isn't the way, then what would you suggest?

  12. Dudes, I too saw Bob Ross on Netflix and he relaxes you. But please stop with your over analyzed tripe. It may not be exactly the same and I don't want to think right now, but when was the last time DaVinci saw Jesus or Michelangelo saw an angel, trees you know and love, so stop with looking at the damn trees There are books and movies these instructors could have seen, we were not in their classroom when they taught their particular class. And your pompous attitude, wow, I saw and I will use caps here; I SAW THE MOVIE "POLLOCK" WITH ED HARRIS AND THAT BOY, Jackson Pollock, THREW THE PAINT AT THE CANVAS, DO YOU HEAR, THREW THE PAINT, HE SAID THE "BRUSH" NOR ANYTHING ELSE BUT THE PAINT TOUCHES THE CANVAS. THEN I SAW REAL PHOTOS OF JACKSON POLLOCK DOING THIS. ART LIKE THIS COMES DOWN TO, I WANNA BE THE FIRST AND THE PHILOSOPHY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL MAKEUP OF THE ARTIST AND NOT THE PAINTING ITSELF. Leave Bob rest in peace and go about your business and become then next Jackson Pollock or whatever insane artist you admire. Remember, great (in your particular field, in this case being an artist) does not criticize others in public, they do it in private. I thought I would help you future artists out.
    Thanks for reading.
    God Bless

    P.S. I know Pollock painted in other ways also, but this way put him over the top.

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  14. I deleted the second comment, James, because it was a duplicate. This thread is six years old now, it's interesting that people still come to it; I think they do because while Bob is, I hope, resting in peace, his influence certainly isn't - he's had a second lease of life (if not a third and fourth) thanks to YouTube. I've nothing to add to what I've said already about his work, which I think was a reflection of his half-hour TV slot and the fact that you'd have to be a genius to produce a good painting in that time, which Bob Ross wasn't and didn't claim to be. That he still attracts comment, however, suggests he had something which endures - whatever it was.