Friday, January 6, 2017

"The Philosophy of Bob Ross & The Joy of Painting"

So I've been watching Bob Ross a lot since I've graduated. I've found myself on a few occasions attaching a lot of what he says to ancient philosophical traditions, specifically Stoicism and East Asian (the syncretic position of the Huainanzi being the one I'm most familiar with).

From the Stoics I'm attaching most to the 'happy accidents'. That in painting, as in life, there are things that happen that are (more or less) out of our control, and that we ought to accept and work with them. Trying to fight them in the painting will lead to a muddle of color, to frustration and ultimately to a less successful life (in the eudaimonia/flourishing sense). He doesn't go quite as far as to say to be unattached to the world or your painting, but just to accept what might happen.

In the Asian realm, one thing that Bob talks about quite a bit is the power a painter does have in 'their world' from simple actions. The whole technique is intended to make paintings that look like they take a great deal of effort but in truth can be done in a half-hour. One specific reference to power that stands out is when he is making mountains and uses a single stroke of highlight color to move a mountain from the foreground to the background. In addition to thinking it's the coolest thing since the invention of oil paints, he often mentions that we have the power to "move mountains". I'm reminded of rhetoric in the Huainanzi that roughly says that incredibly simple actions can often have a huge effect, much more so than forced, major ones.

I know I'm glossing over a lot and summarizing quite a bit with these. For those familiar with these (or other) traditions, am I totally off base here? Do you have more to add? I don't think he was doing it on purpose, not that he was unintelligent just that he wasn't concerned with being philosophical.

via Reddit: Link


ricpic said...

There are painters who philosophize and there are painters who can paint the human hand...convincingly.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

Bob is compelling to watch, in a totally relaxed way. It is really a unique talent he had.

Methadras said...

If I wanted to veg out and not think, then Bob Ross and/or the Teletubbies is what I sat in front of. Instant relaxation.

Stoicism is fairly rooted in science as well from the perspective of some discoveries not coming from the scientific method, but rather from observational/anecdotal incidents that spur direct discovery or tangential discovery.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Maybe the guy should think about Bob Ross less and paint like Bob Ross more.

Amartel said...

Let's not overthink happy little trees.

Darcy said...

Optimists attract.

Chip Ahoy said...

I was surprised to learn my dad watched his show. It's definitely not his sort of thing. Dad said Bob Ross used to be a master sergeant in the Air Force stationed mostly in Alaska. I said that all along I took Bob Ross as a burn out hippie and my dad ROARED laughing for a very long time. The thought of his son describing a master sergeant as burn out hippy was too funny, too incongruent, too ridiculous to bear.

Wikipedia confirms: Having held military positions that required him to be, in his own words, "tough" and "mean", "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work", Ross decided that if he ever left the military, he would never scream again. (Orlando Sentinel. July 1990)

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric the Fruit Bat said...

A grade school chum of mine, back in the late 60s/early 70s, had a dad who had long hair, and a beard, and was an artist. A hippie, for all appearances. Very anti-Vietnam war. Very anti-NASA. Very anti-racism. Said he would move his family to Canada if Wallace got elected. In other words, precisely the sort of person some of the commenters here at Lem's love to hate.

Anyway, I caught wind, quite by accident, that he was in the Army during WWII. This seemed impossible to me for reasons that some, here, might know without being told.

Trying to figure things out the way the young and curious do, I asked him if it was true. He was very quiet about it. He said, "Yes, I was a second lieutenant in the Army. I was the guy waiving the .45 in the air yelling for everyone to follow him up the hill."

That's where the conversation ended. Which was good. Because it seemed like there was nothing left to say.