The statistical blog FiveThirtyEight is best known for founder Nate Silver’s spot-on political predictions. (And, now that it’s owned by ESPN, for really nerdy football analysis.) But with the relaunch of FiveThirtyEight in March, it’s expanded its coverage beyond sports and politics and into things that really matter—like a statistical analysis of the work of Bob Ross.
Bob Ross, in case you didn’t know, was the wonderfully gentle (and spectacularly permed) host of The Joy Of Painting, a show that taught young and old alike how to create the kind of artwork that looks really good in a wood-paneled den. The Joy Of Painting ran for 11 years on PBS, and in that time Ross created hundreds of variations on his favorite theme: a serene natural landscape, sometimes snowy, sometimes not, but always ringed by his signature cluster of “happy little trees”.
Unsurprisingly, Ross’ favoring of this image is borne out in author Walt Hickey’s analysis. He concludes that 91 percent of Ross’s paintings contain at least one tree. Other popular motifs include “happy little clouds” (44 percent), “almighty mountains” (39 percent), and peaceful mountain lakes (34 percent). Hickey’s survey is limited to the 381 episodes of The Joy Of Painting where Ross actually painted live, but by his own estimation, Ross completed more than 30,000 paintings in his lifetime. Assuming Bob Ross never went through a Cubist period, that translates to roughly 27,300 “happy little trees.”