This and That: The Joy of Painting

by Glasstire May 4, 2019

“This and That” is an occasional series of paired observations. -Ed.

Today: Beat The Devil Out Of It

This video, which demonstrates how to make a painting in the style of Willem de Kooning, was produced by the Museum of Modern Art. It’s gotten nearly a million views as of writing:

And here’s Bob Ross, the sui generis of TV painting teachers, in a compilation that shows him beating his, er, brush:

Which is better: watching Ross produce dumb, happy little trees with a fan brush, or watching a guy whip out a dumb abstract expressionist painting in under 20 minutes? It’s hard to compete with Ross’ ASMR voice and white man ‘fro. But there’s not much difference between the simple sincerity of Ross’ guileless (artless?) landscapes and the simple sincerity of middling abstraction. Both are covering well-traveled ground.

MoMA has a vast collection around which it can produce how-to videos; this could go on for years. Just think: How to make sculptures like Yinka Shonibare. How to do performance like Joan Jonas. Wait.. what about Piero Manzoni?


No matter how original, innovative or crazy your idea, someone else is also working on that idea. Furthermore, they are using notation very similar to yours. – Bruce J. MacLennan



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John Hovig May 6, 2019 - 11:07

The MoMA videos are not teaching you how to paint like Willem de Kooning (and others), they are teaching you how to appreciate it.

John Hovig May 9, 2019 - 10:26

I’m merely suggesting that “learn” need not be a synonym for “copy exactly and regurgitate thoughtlessly for the purposes of making immediate gains.” This might be true in the case of the Bob Ross video, especially given that Ross sold art supplies specifically to bolster that interpretation, but in the case of MoMA, I’m wondering whether the better definition of “learn” is to take it as part of a larger and more considered process, where an art-maker or art-viewer can gain insight into de Kooning’s thoughts and processes without needing to feel like they are becoming a second de Kooning. If I were an abstract painter I might just learn something from this, even if I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career panting in de Kooning’s style. You can say that there are art-intentioned people out there who might take the MoMA video in the same light as the Ross video—which I rather doubt (is there that much overlap in the Venn Diagram of people who know de Kooning’s name and those who want to learn art recreationally?)—but then I would argue that almost no one watches the Ross video for the serious purposes of expanding their existing art education.

Betsy Belcher May 7, 2019 - 10:36
This video is part of a “process and materials” learning guide covering the subject of Abstract Expressionism. Some of it is good for teaching novices, without making the mess in the classroom (like in an art history or art appreciation class). Some schools won’t even let students use oil-based paints any more. It’s tough to do demos of everything when you are not teaching in a studio.
Of course “learn to” paint like deKooning is a silly notion. That is funny. I see the You Tube video is labeled that way.
I doubt it was meant to really be instructional for learning to paint, but more for how painting happens. For a viewer who knows nothing about paint, nor the reason to vary the viscosity of paint, and how process can be relevant, it is an okay video.
Bob Ross simply channels Bob Ross. Enough with the happy trees. My husband used to love him.

Gwen Meharg May 9, 2019 - 11:59

The video is the same guy who teaches art appreciation courses through Coursera. I took a couple of them. I am an artist but my degrees are in computer info systems and statistics. This looks like something from one of the contemporary art classes I took. It is not one of his best demos. The Coursera class was good for me learning art history and appreciation. I will take more in the future. There were reading assignments and homework associated with the course I took.

Jhea May 13, 2019 - 11:30

The reduction of profound thoughts into formulaic nonsense. Thanks!


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