Like everyone in this pandemic, my social life is mostly driven by Netflix. For some reason, the Bob Ross documentary was recommended to me. Maybe the internet algorhythm discovered I am nostalgic, maybe it aligned my approximate birthdate with his life. Who knows.
What I do know is that his shows made me not only incredibly relaxed, but filled me with the belief that I could do things even if I didn’t believe in myself.
People loved him because he made them believe they could paint. And if people believed they could paint a beautiful mountain or a forest, then maybe they could do things that they didn’t have the confidence to achieve. He made the inaccessible accesssible, and maybe that’s one of the genius attributes of a good teacher.
In one of his interviews, he said that anyone could paint. He didn’t say that anyone could be a Picasso. He just said that anyone could paint. I remember one of my favorite lines from the movie Ratatouille was, “anyone can cook, that doesn’t mean that anyone should!”
Yes, a lot of his paintings look like motel/hotel art. You may have even seen what you think to be a Bob Ross painting at a flea market. In fact, in the documentary they admitted it was nearly impossible to authenticate a true Bob Ross from a fake. But the point is not that he expected himself or others to become world renowned artists. The point was that people could pursue a talent that they didn’t know they had, even if they didn’t have it. And who knows what could become of that.
If my math teacher asked me the right questions about how I think and what I would do in certain mathematical situations, even though I stopped learning math at Algebra II in grade 11, who knows what I could have done? Maybe if he told me that anyone can do math that I might have been good!I
Tom Schimmer, a world renowned expert on assessment, told my teachers recently that every learner had an emotional reaction to the opportunity to be assessed. What Bob Ross did with his audience was to focus their emotions in a way that enabled them to access a creative side of themselves that they didn’t think was possible. In other words, magic.
I work in a school. I don’t want to stand in the way of the pursuit of talent. But too often I feel that we do. I want to be a catalyst for the pursuit of interest, not an obstacle. And most importantly, like Bob, I want to get people to believe in their ability to do something even though they think it’s impossible.
It’s a sad docmentary. It speaks to the consequences of what happens to artists and people that simply love and pursue something without understanding the business side of things and the evil that happens when cunning overwhelms curiosity. I don’t have an answer for that.
But what I do know is that Bob Ross gave people something to believe in that cut across cultures, religions, educational background, and vaccination preference.
He made them believe that they could do something they didn’t think was possible. Even if they made happy mistakes along the way.