Optionals Focus: Bob Ross and The Joys of Painting

Peter Guthrie

by Peter Guthrie

On Tuesday evening for our Optional, Maddie Hamblin and I joined some campers to follow along with The Joys of Painting with Bob Ross. Bob Ross is an evergreen presence at camp, and though I’ve never been much of an artist, painting with my friends and Bob was always one of the highlights of camp for me. I think it boils down to the joy of self-expression in a no-stakes environment. Campers often have opportunities for creativity during the year, but more often than not, their creative projects are for grades or prizes. Having a space to doodle happy little trees, or whatever else pops into your mind, is unexpectedly liberating.

One of the best things about VAMPY is the removal of any stakes. Throughout high school, my VAMPY projects were some of the only times I had a chance to be experimental, whether it was role-playing Bob Dole in a presidential debate, writing and shooting a short film, giving an avant-garde presentation on existentialism, or prosecuting Hitler (a harder case than you’d think). When the extrinsic motivations — primarily grades — are stripped away, campers have this rare opportunity to find underlying passions and curiosities they didn’t know they had. All of this might sound grandiose for a Bob Ross activity, but I think it fits into the broader camp ethos of expression without judgement.

“We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy little accidents.” — Bob Ross, The Joys of Painting