Happy Clouds, Happy Trees

Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon

Kristin G. Congdon
Doug Blandy
Danny Coeyman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkkz9
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  • Book Info
    Happy Clouds, Happy Trees
    Book Description:

    Readers will know Bob Ross (1942-1995) as the gentle, afro'd painter of happy trees on PBS. And while the Florida-born artist is reviled or ignored by the elite art world and scholarly art educators, he continues to be embraced around the globe as a healer and painter, even decades after his death. InHappy Clouds, Happy Trees, the authors thoughtfully explore how the Bob Ross phenomenon grew into a juggernaut.

    Although his sincerity in embracing democracy, gift economies, conservation, and self-help may have left him previously denigrated as a subject of rigorous scholarship, this book uses contemporary art theory to explore the sophistication of Bob Ross's vision as an artist. It traces the ways in which his many fans have worshiped, emulated, and parodied him and his work. His technique allowed him to paint over 35,000 paintings in his lifetime, mostly of mountains and trees in landscapes heavily influenced by his time in the Air Force and stationed in Alaska.

    The authors address issues of amateur art, sentimentality, imitation, boredom, seduction, and democratic practices in the art world. They fully examine Ross as a painter, teacher, healer, media star, performer, magician, and networker. In-depth comparisons are made to Andy Warhol and Thomas Kinkade, and mention is made of his life in relation to Joseph Beuys, Elvis Presley, St. Francis of Assisi, Carl Rogers, and many other creative personalities. In the end,Happy Clouds, Happy Treespresents Ross as a gift giver, someone who freely teaches the act of painting to anyone who believes in Ross's vision that "this is your world."

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-027-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-1)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION: The Bob Ross Phenomenon
    (pp. 3-12)

    Bob Ross was a man of many contradictions. He’s famous, but few know him by name. Show someone a picture of this man with the trademark Afro and house-painting brush, and then they are likely to smile with nostalgia. On TV he emoted a rural naiveté and spoke about happy clouds and happy trees, which he simultaneously marketed to his fans from the helm of a multimillion-dollar company. He was, according to many, a mediocre painter, and yet as an artist he seems endlessly fascinating. And although his physical body has left this world, Bob Ross’s presence around the world...

  5. PART I. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BOB ROSS
    • 2 ROB ROSS, BIRTH TO DEATH
      (pp. 15-25)

      Fairbanks, Alaska, is located in the Tanana Valley and bordered by the White Mountains and with the snow-capped Alaska Range in site. In the early 1960s, it had a population of around thirteen thousand residents, augmented by tourists on their way to the wilderness or to see the remnants of the area’s past gold rush. An affable, part-time, six foot two inch (IMDb 2013) bartender named Bob Ross might have served visitors in a local tavern. Ross, who joined the US Air Force in Florida at the age of eighteen, was not only a bartender, but a medical records technician...

    • 3 PROMISING JOY: Bob Ross as Artist and Teacher
      (pp. 27-34)

      Bob Ross’s PBS television series and art classes based on his “joy of painting” method have captivated an international audience by promising participants that they can create immediate oil-painted masterworks worthy of framing and hanging. Significant to the success of Bob’s television series, the classes, and the enterprise is Bob’s charisma, coupled with a philosophy of education informed by a utopian impulse to promote the potential in all who participate.

      Daniel Chodorkoff described the utopian impulse as a “response to existing social conditions and an attempt to transcend or transform those conditions to achieve an ideal” (1983, x). This impulse...

  6. PART II. THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF BOB ROSS
    • 4 BOB ROSS AS SHAMAN
      (pp. 37-46)

      Fortunately, more Art World members are beginning to recognize Bob Ross as a person worthy of their attention. Even New York art critic Michael Kimmelman acknowledges Bob Ross’s cult like status, especially among “an ironically inclined segment of Generation X” who know the artist from a series of promotional spots on MTV as well as hisJoy of PaintingTV series (2005, 42). Referred to as a “televangelist” by Kimmelman (2005, 33), Bob Ross teaches not only painting techniques, but also a way of life. Bill Ivey (2008, 117) has a somewhat different take on Ross, claiming his message is...

    • 5 BOB ROSS AS MEDIA STAR
      (pp. 47-56)

      From the beginning of his career as a painting instructor, Bob Ross understood the value of diversifying the ways in which students could experience instruction and the instructor. His mentor, William Alexander, had demonstrated to him how to construct a successful business model of face-to-face teaching coupled with book publications, an art supply product line, and a television show. Bob and his associates at Bob Ross, Inc., copied and sophisticated this approach. Like Alexander, Bob cultivated students and fans through face-to-face classes, art supplies, instruction books, and a television show. However, unlike Alexander, Bob and his associates understood the power...

  7. PART III. REFLECTIONS ON BOB ROSS AND HIS WORK
    • 6 BOB ROSS AS THE BEST-KNOWN TEACHER “ALIVE”
      (pp. 59-68)

      It is hard to imagine that there is a more well-known art teacher in the world than Bob Ross. While he isn’t studied in art education classrooms (certainly not routinely), he’s “out there” as a force that entices and cajoles thousands of individuals to paint. And while only a small portion of those who watch Bob on television actually paint, all the rest learn something about painting—whether university-schooled art educators like what he has to say or not.

      The formal field of art education is full of theories and approaches to teaching art. Since the mid-1900s, scholars and teachers...

    • 7 ASSESSING BOB ROSS’S PAINTINGS AND HIS APPROACH TO ART
      (pp. 69-92)

      As we write this book, our friends and colleagues ask us about our current project. When we explain that we are writing a book on Bob Ross, there are mixed reactions. What is interesting, however, is that, generally speaking, the more involved someone is in the Art World, the more excitement they have for our book. This private confirmation for Bob is in contradiction to the public view, which seems to articulate an Art World snobbery for Bob Ross. The reaction from some, however, is something like dismay. Still others either aren’t sure who Bob Ross is until we describe...

    • 8 THE BOB ROSS NETWORK
      (pp. 93-106)

      Driving State Route 44 East, turning to State Route A1A across the South Causeway, will take you to the ocean-side district of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. New Smyrna Beach is located on the central coast south of Daytona Beach and north of Titusville. Established as a colony by Dr. Andrew Turnbull of Scotland in 1768, New Smyrna Beach was incorporated as the town New Smyrna in 1887. It was a hideout for rumrunners during prohibition. It became New Smyrna Beach with the annexation of Coronado Beach in 1947. With a population of approximately twenty-three thousand residents, New Smyrna Beach attracts...

    • 9 BOB AND ANDY
      (pp. 107-114)

      If Andy Warhol took the everyday and made it into art, then Bob Ross took art and made it everyday. Of the two, Andy Warhol’s legacy in Art History is undisputed. His life story is a legend of growing up unknown in poverty and dying a famous millionaire. He went from obscurity to becoming a man so cool that even his hair and voice were iconic. And by his own hand and those of others, he produced hundreds of artworks that still cycle through international culture decades after his death.

      All of this is equally true of Bob Ross. Even...

    • 10 THOMAS KINKADE IS NO BOB ROSS
      (pp. 115-138)

      When first talking to various people about Bob Ross and this project, Bob is sometimes confused with Thomas Kinkade (1958–2012), who trademarked himself “The Painter of Light.” On the surface, this mistake may be vaguely understandable. Both artists dressed in jeans and associated themselves with the everyday person. Kinkade is described in aNew York Timesarticle as “an ebullient, burly, mustached fellow in jeans who looks more like a construction worker than a multimillionaire artist” (DeCarlo 1999, AR51). Like Bob Ross, Kinkade has been hugely popular. In the sameNew York Timesarticle he was described as “arguably...

  8. PART IV. BOB ROSS LIVES
    • 11 THE ART WORLD IN THE MIDST OF BOB ROSS
      (pp. 141-151)

      Critics, curators, art historians, and collectors determine which artists make it into the Art Canon. Art Theory generally underlies and drives the determinations. All this, as previously noted, is in part, related to class systems. But some artists, such as street artists and graffitists, make it into the Art Canon. So if Bob Ross hasn’t made it into the established contemporary Art World, it would be good to determine why that is. Comparing him to other artists who get recognition is one way of looking at his exclusion from the Art World. Doing so within the context of contemporary Art...

    • 12 BOB ROSS’S LEGACY
      (pp. 153-164)

      Bob Ross seems to be as popular today as he ever was, maybe more so. While many people seem to like his paintings—marveling at how someone can render a colorful landscape in such as short time—there is more to the Bob Ross phenomenon than his paintings. The only way to understand his popularity is to look at his art, performance, and teaching approach from a variety of perspectives. It is also important to examine the many and varied permutations of Bob Ross by his fans. No one way of analyzing this soft-spoken, Afro-wearing white man will do him...

  9. REFERENCES
    (pp. 165-174)
  10. ABOUT THE IMAGES
    (pp. 175-176)
    Danny Coeyman
  11. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 177-180)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 181-188)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)