Monday, September 06, 2004

Possessed by Bob Ross

As well as my secret disability-related activities, I teach art, for a bob or two. But not this Bob. Allow me to explain. Two of my students have become possessed by a slick daytime TV artist by the name of Bob Ross.

Whilst I have nothing personal against the (late) Bob Ross, (no – stuff it, I’m lying, I hate his work and everything he stands for) I now have an explanation as to why, inexplicably, they have demonstrated the desire to paint evergreen trees and lakeside 'shacks' in every art session they have attended for the past year.

After a shack and evergreen tree ban imposed by myself last week, one of them confessed that all he wants to do is paint "like that white bloke with an afro off the telly". Further probing led him to spill the name 'Ross'. Bob Ross is apparently incumbent on Sky TV most mornings, although I haven't had the pleasure, being on modest earnings like many others of my profession.

Internet investigation this morning has revealed the true nature of the beast, leaving me aghast at the sheer volume of wooden shacks, evergreen trees, lakes and other Harbingers of Cheese at such volume as I have never before encountered, (even though my Nana owned both ‘The Dusky Maiden' and ‘The Crying Child' - or was it ‘The Pissing Boy’? I can't really remember).

I am trying to reconcile the fact that although this Bob Ross is not what I would personally subscribe to as 'good art', the students who attend my class do so as part of a day-centre program - and are NOT there to be bullied into being culture vultures, nor to be ridiculed for simple pleasures like painting indescribably kitsch landscapes. (Although I will draw the line at encouraging them to spend their cash on the somewhat extensive range of specialist paints and brushes this Bob Ross cult seems to insist are the only instruments capable of truly emulating the master...).

My dilemma is simple - I should surely go in there and speak calmly, objectively, knowledgeably, convincingly and without bile on this, attempting to steer them away gently, but what I fear what will actually happen is, on the mention of Mr. Ross's name, or the sight of a slickly painted evergreen, my head will spin a full 360 degrees and fire will pour from my eye sockets. My students don't really deserve this.

Help me someone please.



pimp said...

i do realise that this is quite an old post, but i feel as though i should say something. bob ross was not so much about the 'art' as the enjoyment one can gain by simply having a try at creating it, this in itself is what bob ross was all about. you can poke at his method all you want, it's simply unfair (for example) to compare his work to that of the great 'masters', his gift lies in inspiring people into picking up a brush and having a go.

take the time to watch a few of his shows to see what he is all about, i'm sure you will see why your students are so fond of his work. (maybe you can learn a thing or two from him about connecting with your students, since they are no doubt so fond of him)

judging by the intonation of your post i think you could learn a little from bob ross. life should be enjoyed. help people enjoy living theirs. that should be the #1 part of teaching.

Agent Fang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Agent Fang said...

Dear Pimp.

I removed my original post to try and make my comments more polite. But I'm afraid I don't like Bob Ross. I sense you got that from the tone of the blog post. So if you're hoping for a change of heart it's probably best to stop reading now. Sorry - it's not personal, I just love my subject - art.

What made me frustrated with my students was they were spending a lot of money on branded 'Bob Ross' products. I realise everyone had the right to chuck money at stuff they like, even if it is not to my taste, but when that stuff is marketed to make people think they can only paint like Bob if they spend money on branded kit, then I feel it is my duty as a teacher to make them realise this is not the case. You can do everything Bob does with ordinary materials artists have used for centuries - and what's more, in my student's case, these were provided free by the education centre. I also hoped, somewhat modestly perhaps, that seeing as they'd signed up to take classes with me, they'd rather learn to do that - and this would also give them pleasure - knowledge is power, y'know.

I try and make my classes enjoyable, and in this case the people concerned saw my point of view, considered it, and as a result, now understand perspective and how to paint deciduous trees and urban landscapes (as opposed to wooden shacks). They can paint a shack or a tree using Ross's methods if they like, but if they don't know why his methods make it look so good, they're just copying - is that true enjoyment?

If you look at the Ross Incoporated website it takes you through 'My First Landscape' Doesn't that sound a bit patronising, like 'My First Bike, or 'My First Potty?' You're shown how to paint a landscape in a method that is little more than painting by numbers. It might be enjoyable but surely you'd agree it's a technical no-brainer? If a technical no-brainer's what some call enjoyment then that's their prerogative, but I like art AND using my brain. And my students would be wasting my time and their money with an art class outside the Bob Ross franchise. I don't feel any obligation to cater for his practices.

These sort of shortcut methods to get kitsch, mediocre results devalue what to me is a fascinating and complex subject. I say this because I've gone to art college and learned to paint properly without special brushes, specially mixed paint and easy readymade canvases. This gives me - and my students (who thankfully got over him) what I believe is a deeper enjoyment from learning and applying an extensive and authentic skill.

You get what you give - and if all you give is no-brainer, no-effort, paint-by-numbers fare, then I simply Do. Not. feel any obligation to give it air in my teaching. I realise you may think I am an art snob, but there you go. Yes I am. You can like Bob Ross if that's your thing, but it ain't mine. You make think it sounds like I'm kicking people who want to enjoy it, but it's not their enjoyment I'm kicking - it's the idea that a fascinating subject is reduced to a money-making no-effort affair by the Bob Ross Incorporation.

Ok rant over. Sorry if it's not what you wanted to hear. All the best with whatever you want to do, although I hope you appreciate a little more now why I have a different point of view even if you don't agree with it yourself. I'm a stubborn old mare when it comes to debating taste in art, and I enjoy it that way.



pimp said...

I completely agree with what you have said in your comment, Bob Ross inc I find is saddening in many ways.

I've had a good look around the website and indeed it wreaks of money-making and indeed the wording on there seems to imply (as you have said) that you need to use Bob Ross paint in order to paint the way he does. I've never seen Bob mention this, other than saying you need to use a dry paint. I've also read that Bob Ross Inc is no longer owned or operated by his family, so that should give an idea as to why it's the way it is.

I found this excellent article which I think illustrates the point I originally wanted to make.

take care