You may remember him as the guy with the big curly hair who hosted TV art show The Joy of Painting in the 1980s, but Bob Ross is now experiencing a renaissance among Gen Z on social media.
The good-natured landscape painter and TV host died in 1995 – before my generation was born – but his approach to life seems more relevant (and necessary) than ever.
Gen Z loves Bob Ross for more than just his groovy afro and contagious smile. They love his sense of peace. Credit:Age contributor
Jump online and you’ll find Bob Ross hashtags have more than 1.3 billion views on TikTok, his YouTube channel has 5.32 million subscribers, and he’s been referenced on popular TV show Euphoria (when Lexi, played by Maude Apatow, dresses up as him for Halloween). There are even Bob Ross Pez dispensers.
As lockdowns shut Victoria down, I found solace in Bob Ross’ slightly lesser known series, Beauty Is Everywhere.
Filmed in 1991, four years before he died of lymphoma at 52, Ross offered tutorials on how to paint sweeping landscapes in honour of the world’s natural beauty. Not only did his gentle laugh and contagious smile capture my heart, his words reminded me that more existed beyond the pandemic – that I could create my own happiness.
So, how has a Florida-born painter from the ’80s – armed only with a paintbrush, his can-do attitude and a few baby squirrels – become a pop culture icon, adored by 20-something-year-olds today?
It can be summed up in one sentence, as Ross says: “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.”
This is the Bob Ross mantra, and it could not be more appealing to Gen Z if it tried. Ross, with his calm cadence and unbreakable faith in everyone’s ability to succeed, offers the epitome of modern-day mindfulness for the young adult.
My generation is learning to navigate through the quagmire that is adulthood in the midst of a pandemic, climate disasters and political turmoil. Stability has become a rare commodity, something to be cherished if found.
We’ve found it in Bob Ross.
It isn’t the artist’s paintbrush skills drawing us to him (although recreating his pieces can be a cathartic form of meditation). It’s his constant self-affirmations and the reminder to remain in the present – all shared in that smooth baritone voice.
“The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do,” says Ross.
“Just let go – and fall like a little waterfall.”
Ross’ meteoric rise on socials and streaming platforms make him an accessible form of therapy for a generation glued to our phones, light on cash and constantly multitasking.
Forget the thrills of contemporary TV, this hearkens back to a simpler time when entertainment didn’t have to go to the extreme to maintain the attention of the masses, allowing you an escape into the idyllic panorama on his canvas. All you care about are the “happy little clouds” and the “happy little trees”.
We need more Bob Ross, or at least more people like him on our screens. In an age when COVID-19 is followed by monkeypox and floods flow into fires, we need positive reinforcement from a calm presence, replete with artistic flair.
Even when washing his brushes, Ross relishes the process. “Shake ’em off, and just beat the devil out of ’em,” he says.
We’re left with the confidence to “shake off” our own struggles, clean our messes and overcome obstacles. We have Bob Ross to thank for more than the scenic vistas he taught us to paint – we have him to thank for inspiring us to create something beautiful out of nothing, mistakes and all.
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