Happy little accidents: How Bob Ross and “The Joy of Painting” became ASMR heroes

Happy little accidents: How Bob Ross and “The Joy of Painting” became ASMR heroes

Like many people who suffer from anxiety, Nicole Garcia experiences trouble sleeping at night. The 26-year-old has tried a number of remedies to put her mind at ease — Melatonin, lavender oil, a sampling of different over-the-counter medications — but she says the best and most surprising solution to her insomnia has been listening to the dulcet tones of Bob Ross.

“There’s something about his voice,” the New Jersey native says of the painter, who died in 1995. “When my mind is racing or I’m thinking about all the things I haven’t done, I can put on an episode of his show and calm down. It’s like re-centering myself.”

Garcia isn’t alone in finding comfort in the frizzy-haired, congenial artist. Ross, whose show “The Joy of Painting” originally ran on public television from 1983 to 1994, has enjoyed a posthumous renaissance as an accessible icon of kitsch. Fans take bar crawls in his honor, while imitations of his signature look now serve as popular Halloween costumes among teens. A “Bob Ross Appreciation Society” on Facebook has more than 14,000 members, and Twitter and Instagram feeds are riddled with memes featuring the painter’s aphoristic expressions. But perhaps Ross’s most devout advocates are those like Garcia, who say they repeatedly watch “The Joy of Painting” to trigger a sensation known as “autonomous sensory meridian response,” or ASMR.

Bob Ross gets friendly with nature

Just a happy little video of Bob Ross getting friendly with nature, courtesy of our Saturday night marathons of "The Joy of Painting." Tune in: http://bit.ly/2O4kXsp

Posted by ALL ARTS on Friday, September 27, 2019

Ross has become an unofficial mascot for the acronym, which refers to a light, tingling sensation that radiates through a person’s head and spine. Those who experience it say the feeling is usually prompted by soft and mundane sounds, like light tapping or, in Garcia’s case, the faint whisps from Ross pressing his paintbrush to a canvas. The science and research behind the phenomenon is basically nonexistent, but ASMR devotees grow in number with each viral vlog or TikTok.

“I watch Bob to calm down from panic attacks and when I’m too upset to sleep,” says Karen Hathaway, another fan who found Ross through Facebook. “I watch a little, and if need be, sometimes I close my eyes and just listen.”

Sign up for our newsletter

For most fans, the sensation results in a state of benign relaxation. Others, like Judy Plate, claim it acts as a soothing balm during moments of severe psychological distress. The Bob Ross Appreciation Society member, who lives with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, says turning on “The Joy of Painting” routinely pulls her out of a “bad mental place.”

“His videos and painting have brought me back to my safety zone,” she told ALL ARTS. “I also watch him to fall asleep or when I wake up from a nightmare. He always makes me feel better. It is his love and kindness that shows through in his videos. His positive energy is contagious, and he is sincere and easy to be in the room with, so to speak.”

"Happy Little Facts" About Bob Ross

Did you know these facts about Bob Ross? "The Joy of Painting" airs Saturday nights on ALL ARTS: https://bit.ly/2tn6EFR

Posted by ALL ARTS on Thursday, February 14, 2019

Craig Richard, who earned his doctorate in physiology and cell biology from Albany Medical College, is one of the few doctors researching ASMR. He runs the “ASMR University Podcast” and put together a database documenting more than 25,000 participant responses. When asked why Ross proved to be such an instrumental figure in the community, he attributed the popularity to the painter’s non-threatening mannerisms and warm voice. Richard, who counts himself as a Ross fan, recalled feeling at ease watching “The Joy of Painting” as a child.

“I found his soft voice, kind disposition and gentle painting sounds so relaxing that I often fell asleep while watching him,” Richard says. “It wasn’t until several years ago that I learned about ASMR and that Bob Ross embodies the core traits of an ASMR scenario: a kind person providing positive, personal attention while speaking in a soft voice and making gentle sounds.”

Those facets of his public persona certainly help, but the allure of listening to Ross as a soothing mechanism transcends relaxing sounds and the one-on-one structure of his show, according to Dale Cullen, a longtime fan. Where many art shows feel cold and alienating, Ross is accessible and appears authentic. And, where other shows might ignore dark subject matters completely, Ross acknowledges their existence — but lets them go. It is, Cullen noted, a therapeutic experience to immerse yourself in his dimly lit painting studio.

“It’s his ability to seem like an old friend you’ve known your entire life,” Cullen says. “A friend who lets you know that no matter what is going on in your life, it’s all going to work out.”

Cullen continued: “As Bob always says. ‘you have to have dark to show the light. You have to have bad times to appreciate the good times. I’m waiting on some good times right now.'”

ALL ARTS, which is supported by public media, airs “The Joy of Painting” Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekly.