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For reasons unknown, I was thinking about Bob Ross and Julia Child, and what they had in common. People love their programs still, and enjoy learning from them.
Because both people had joy, real joy, in what they did.
I’ve read several accounts by people who participated in events with Julia Child, and all of them say that she was gracious, and truly enthusiastic about food and enjoying life. She thanked people, she appreciated the effort they put into meals, and she delighted in enjoying what she ate. That really came through in her cooking program, which is probably why it remains popular. Dignity didn’t bother her too much, neither did dishes that would have looked good on the cover of Gourmet magazine (or as Instagram posts today). Nope, she wanted the dish to taste good and to bring pleasure to those who ate it. If it came out a bit lop-sided, so what?
Bob Ross did not worry about perfectly capturing the inner essence of a scene, or exact technique and shading. He wanted people to enjoy painting, and to work with what they had. He worked quickly, turned accidents into opportunities, and encouraged everyone to try. Did it make you happy? Was it rewarding? So what if it didn’t quite look like you had planned? That wasn’t the point. He wanted his students to enjoy what they did, and keep with it. Like Julia Child, he loved what he did, loved sharing it, and that’s what he did until he died.
Both had interesting backgrounds. Ross dropped out of school to work when he was a teen, then served twenty years in the Air Force. Julia Child worked for the OSS in WWII, doing interesting things with classified materials. This took her all over the world, including to Sri Lanka, where she met her eventual husband. I strongly suspect that their experiences colored their insistence on living without worrying about perfection. According to Wikipedia, Ross said that his years of being the person who had to yell at everyone (master sergeant) made him decide that he’d not raise his voice again once he left the service. Bob Ross grew up poor, Child was from a wealthy family.
The important thing was that they loved what they did, and shared it. They had no hesitation about sharing. “Infectious enthusiasm” describes both of them, at least when they were on screen, and neither worried about perfection.
For all that the art experts and gourmands made fun of Child and Ross, and muttered (still mutter) about the masses trivializing and not appreciating truly fine art and cuisine, Ross and Child probably reached more people than 99% of the people in their fields. They taught their viewers and readers that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying cooking and painting, and if your results are not a DaVinci or Cordon Bleu-quality at first, so what? Do you like it? Does it taste good? Do you enjoy it? Then you’ve succeeded.
Self-described sophisticated people often say it is childish to get so enthusiastic and excited about hobbies and new pursuits. I think one problem with society is the lack of enthusiasm and excitement about hobbies and new pursuits. We’re retreating into the early 1700s-early 1800s, when “enthusiasm” was a negative term and excess of emotion and zeal were grounds for grave concern and social disapproval. We are supposed to be authentic, and “real”, and perfect—not delighted. There’s less room for the happy, excited amateur today, or so it feels some days.
One of my aunts did oil painting and china painting. Her works are very nice amateur landscapes and florals. She also sewed. She didn’t care if she won awards. She enjoyed her art and sewing, liked being around people who liked art and sewing, and lived life in full.
I wonder if that’s part of why the maker movement seems to be prospering. There’s a lot of support and encouragement, and room for variety. People like teaching people who enjoy learning, and perfection is not an initial requirement, at least not from what I’ve seen and heard.