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ASMR and the Joy of Bob Ross

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Happy little trees and a happy little cabin in the snow

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Median Response. The term was coined in 2010 to describe the pleasant internal 'tingling' sensation that some people experience in response to particular sensory stimuli.

ASMR sensations can be 'triggered' by the use of different physical senses. For example, the touch of someone stroking your hand very gently may cause the ASMR tingle. The tingle may even result from the sight of someone else gently stroking a cat or other furry pet. The sound of someone whispering, or of a rabbit eating a lettuce leaf, may also elicit the sensation.

In the 21st Century, there are numerous videos on youtube catering for all kinds of ASMR triggers, from hair-brushing to the tapping of fingernails on wood. However, in the 20th Century the US artist Bob Ross provided similar sensations in his The Joy of Painting television series (1983-94). He died in 1995 at the age of just 52, but his programmes provided a fine legacy. They found new audiences around the world via online streaming services. Some of the episodes were even broadcast on the BBC during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to provide comfort to UK viewers during the challenging time.

The Joy of Painting continued where The Magic of Painting (1974-82) left off. The Magic of Painting was a US television series presented by Bill Alexander, a German-born artist and art teacher who taught Bob Ross the wet-on-wet technique with oil paints that he used to create a painting in 30 minutes.

While Bill's presenting style was much more exuberant than Bob's, and the main focus of his television series was on teaching viewers how to paint, there are many similarities between the two series. There is no background music. The easel and canvas are situated to the right of the screen, while the artist stands on the left. The background is dark so the main focus is on the painting. Both artists use 'Magic White' or 'Liquid White', thin paint that allows colours to be blended together on the canvas rather than on the palette. And both artists often paint scenes featuring mountains or lakes with 'happy little trees'. However, the soft-spoken style of Bob Ross, and the focus on the sounds of the painting, such as the swoosh of the fan brush, the scrape of the knife, or the tapping of the wide brush, appealed to wider audiences, whether they were painting along with him or just sitting and watching the show.

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