The Bob Ross, 'Joy of Painting' marathon on Twitch Creative (all screenshots by the author)

The ‘Joy of Painting’ marathon on Twitch Creative (all screenshots by the author)

Twitch, the live-streaming website that lets millions of viewers follow along as users play their favorite video games — complete with live commentary — has expanded into art. The freshly launched category, Twitch Creative, lets anyone watch as artists work on paintings, potterydrawings, sculptures, origami, comicscrochet, cosplay costumes, and just about anything else you could want to see in the making.

Twitch cleverly inaugurated the new section with a marathon showing of all 403 episodes of Bob Ross’s famous how-to TV show, The Joy of Painting, which at any given moment has between 40,000 and 65,000 viewers, making it by far the most popular channel on the platform. Ross’s influence is palpable amid Twitch Creative’s offerings, which, since the Joy of Painting marathon began, have included the making of an anime-style image of Ross as a palette-wielding ninja, an artist donning a fake beard, puffy wig, and her best Rossian intonation as she painted a colorful portrait, and a very meta project in which a landscape made a painting of Bob Ross.

Twitch user MissCoookiez, in costume as Bob Ross, on Twitch Creative

Twitch user MissCoookiez, in costume as Bob Ross, on Twitch Creative (click to enlarge)

“The Bob Ross marathon is interesting, though, in that it’s such a direct and intense wave of positive energy being directed at some of the crankiest people on the internet: video game people,” artist Oliver Leach told Hyperallergic. “Maybe there will be a net positive psychological impact? In the flood that is the stream chat (tens of thousands of people yelling at once) I’ve seen scores of young people saying they were going to go buy paint and a brush. So maybe the world will be a little better, for a bit anyway?”

Though the Creative category was added to Twitch two months ago, it was formally launched as a new branch of the site on Wednesday. “We encourage you to broadcast your creative process on Twitch, be that visual art, woodworking, costume creation, prop building, music composition, or any other process in which you entertain and connect around a creative activity,” wrote Bill Moorier, the director of Twitch Creative, in a blog post. “We understand that this is vague. We expect to learn much about what is, and is not, appropriate for Twitch as the community grows.” So, how long before an artist takes to Twitch to broadcast a durational performance art piece?

“As far as artists incorporating it into their practice, it’s definitely possible,” Leach said. “I can think of any number of conceptual frameworks you could build around having a live feed into a studio with audience contribution. It’s up to the artists, though, and up to Twitch to get their platform in front of a different sort of audience/user.”

A live broadcast of pottery in the making on Twitch

A live broadcast of pottery in the making on Twitch

Though the artistic subculture on Twitch began as a part of its gaming community and was initially dominated by game art, Moorier told The Verge that it has become a more important sector over the last two years. “People were not just doing game-related art anymore,” he said. “It was everything from Photoshop to really traditional oil and watercolor, even glass blowing and sculpture.” Twitch Creative currently has an audience of about 2 million monthly viewers, and that viewership has been growing at a rate of almost 40% every month — double the growth rate of Twitch as a whole.

Tuning in to watch artists make art via live feed may be a (relatively) new phenomenon on Twitch, but it’s not without precedent. “It looked pretty identical to the ‘creative’ section of Japanese streaming giant Nico Nico Douga, which it appears they are trying to mirror,” Leach said. The site also has a more blue-chip precursor. When Damien Hirst relaunched his personal website in 2012, the homepage featured a live video feed (at least during business hours) from his studio, letting anyone watch his assistants tirelessly assemble kaleidoscopic compositions of butterfly wings or scalpel blades, or dutifully complete his dot paintings. That feature has since disappeared from Hirst’s site, but perhaps a Twitch Creative broadcaster can take up the mantle and show the world how to suspend a shark in formaldehyde.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...