Bob Ross inspired ‘The Joy of Painting’

Paige Zezulka, Managing Editor

When I was a kid, I remember getting so excited when Bob Ross came on the television. Looking back at it now, I think about all the cartoons I could’ve been watching at the time, so why Bob Ross? Why this man with a big afro and a goofy grin? 

There was something about the PBS program, “The Joy of Painting,” that really drew me in. It might have been the incredible pieces of art that the man behind the paintbrush was creating in just 30 minutes of sun kissed forests, misty mountain landscapes, or sunsets that lit up an ocean view. But I think it was more than that. 

The artist’s ability to transmit creativity, passion, knowledge, and love through a screen is what got me. And I think millions of others would agree. 

Recently, Netflix produced a documentary called, “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed.” I remember looking at the title and seeing his name and was like “I have to watch this.” But I was a little confused about seeing the rest of the words, “betrayal and greed,” in the title. What negativity could possibly come out of Bob Ross’s story? 

What seemed to viewers around the world as a show that displayed beauty and shared artistic intelligence, was behind the scenes something much more eerie. 

The show “The Joy of Painting” was indeed created and hosted by Bob Ross, but he had partnered with a family named the Kowalskis, who invested in him prior to the show’s production that ran from 1983-1994. 

The ties between the Ross family and the Kowalskis were noticeably close, though may have been a bit too close. Per the documentary there were some sketchy things that happened throughout Bob’s career that intertwined with this family including Bob Ross’ name being wrongfully generated for profit. 

While watching the film I was shocked that it was taking a route of unraveling multiple scandals within the life of Bob Ross, rather than discussing more about himself as an artist. 

The film focused more on the theme of the Kowalskis and how they took advantage of the commercialization of Bob Ross and created a brand in his name. 

I don’t want to share too many details and spoil the film, because I truly think it is a documentary that people should watch, especially those who are interested in art. 

But I do want to state that Bob Ross’s existence is not one that I would connect to with any toxic thought or feeling, even after hearing the dark side of the story. His passion for teaching people the joy of painting is what I’ll remember the most. 

Overall, this Netflix documentary left me a bit confused. At first, I felt super upset that this happy-go-lucky artist and his family were, or could have been, treated unfairly due to the artist’s rise of fame. But another part of me tries to see past the gloom and centers my vision back to the tiny television I once watched Bob Ross on.  

As I’ve gotten older, I have become more artistic than I have ever been. I even pick up a paint brush every now and then. Could it be the magic of Bob Ross’ influence on me those many years ago? I’d like to think so.