The Joy Of Painting: cult TV daubathon finds a new home online

The Joy Of Painting: cult TV daubathon finds a new home online

Students, pensioners and Mark and Jez from Peep Show number amongst its fans. Now a new generation is getting its Bob Ross fix on YouTube

One of the great joys of YouTube is unearthing a video of entirely indeterminate origin and purpose. Who made this, you wonder, and who the hell did they make it for? The sensation is not entirely a new one, but it was rarer in the days before the internet, when almost everything that made its way to broadcast had a calculated position within the schedule and a clearly defined target demographic.

I say almost everything because, between 1983 and 1994, the instructional PBS art show The Joy Of Painting was the ultimate in “who-is-this-for?” broadcasting. So many different audiences found something to love in bushy-haired host Bob Ross and his stream-of-consciousness art classes (housebound pensioners, carefree stoners, irony-hungry Generation X-ers, and presumably at least a couple of aspiring painters) that it’s unclear who exactly he intended them to target.

Some insist that Ross was alive to the camp value of his snow-tipped mountains, “happy little trees” and phthalo blue skies, citing a series of early-90s MTV spots in which he lightly mocked his own presentational style. But on The Joy Of Painting, at least, he never broke character. For more than a decade he addressed his audience in a register of unwavering sincerity – even claiming his signature perm was a way to save on haircuts rather than an arch gimmick.

In the UK, The Joy Of Painting was a mainstay of various ropey satellite channels, allowing generation after generation of baffled but appreciative viewers to discover Ross’s be-permed presence anew. Away from its country of origin, the show took on an even stranger resonance, becoming an emblem not just of public-service television but a wider strain of folksy, quasi-religious American broadcasting. In the first series of Peep Show, Mark and Jeremy were avid fans, though they knew its charismatic host only as “God”.

Ross retired the show shortly before he died of cancer in 1995, but for a little over a year now, a new archival episode of The Joy Of Painting has been uploaded to his official YouTube channel each and every day. In what is undoubtedly the show’s natural 21st-century habitat, it’s sure to find a whole new raft of viewers. Indeed, the view counts of the more than 300 episodes already available speak to the ongoing appeal of Ross’s singular body of work. At the time of writing, YouTube users seem especially keen on an hour-long special entitled The Grandeur Of Summer; more than 2.5 million of them have watched it.

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