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Measuring Greatness: How Does William "Bill" Alexander Stack Up?

The author met Bill Alexander at age sixteen in 1966, knew him like a father, delivered his eulogy and executed his last will and testament.

Artist William "Bill" Alexander

Artist William "Bill" Alexander

Famous Artist or Television Personality?

I don't think about William "Bill" Alexander much anymore. Since his birthday follows April Fools' Day, I always remember, reminisce and Google him at least yearly.

And always when I have to lug around, protect and preserve the collection of art I have accumulated over the years because of him. Even pieces having nothing to do with Bill.

This past summer, our hot water tank ended its useful life and spewed its contents in a lovely semi-circle in the room adjacent to the "art vault", aka another household storage closet, under the stairs. Happily, other than the tank and floor, little of value was lost thanks to some plastic sheeting under the floor and up the wall in the "vault".

To be honest, it is quite tedious trying to preserve greatness. Especially if you are the only one. So far, the collection has survived two moves, one flood and over twenty-five years of apathy. Even revulsion and unexpected pressure to cease and desist, in some cases.

In addition to his works, I also have to deal with original paintings by other artists he exchanged for his own. Like Violet Parkhurst. But alas, no Bob Ross.

Still, I feel a lot like one of those people who is sitting on or found an unpublished Dickens novel, unseen draft of a poem by Robert Frost or new drawings for a flying machine by Leonardo da Vinci.

Clearly, a bullet was dodged and Bill's yet unseen and perhaps greatest works survive, for now.

The recent flood and my age are a great reminder I must, if you will pardon the expression, "grab a tiger by the tail and fire in."

Googling Bill

First thing to do is prove greatness, or at least try. My methodology includes measuring Google results. I have been doing this for decades and the results are always consistent, only the results have bigger numbers over time.

I do it to remind me William "Bill" Alexander was a great man and deserves his rightful place in cultural history, if not art history.

Today (27Oct22) there were:

About 268,000,000 results (0.56 seconds)

Then I start Googling other famous artists. Here are today's results in no particular order:

  • Pablo Picasso - About 50,200,000 results (0.60 seconds)
  • Bob Ross - About 154,000,000 results (0.58 seconds)
  • Leonardo da Vinci - About 115,000,000 results (0.64 seconds)

For the first time ever today, I started Googling famous TV personalities in no particular order:

  • Johnny Carson - About 26,100,000 results (0.67 seconds)
  • Ellen DeGeneres - About 507,000,000 results (0.57 seconds)
  • Oprah Winfrey - About 35,400,000 results (0.51 seconds)

So, if Google results are any indication of greatness, Only Ellen "outperformed" Bill Alexander. (I encourage readers to compare other "greats" search results. It is fun and interesting.)

According to my Google search of, "What do Google results mean?", I found this:

Organic search results are the classic listings that display relevant pages for a given search. They appear below ads and local results, and are ranked based on Google's search algorithms which determine page relevance for a given query.

A reference to the word relevant and relevance was used twice. I interpret that to mean more results also means more relevance. I could also interpret that to be some means to place quantitative value of that query in human consciousness. How many people are thinking or have thought about Ellen DeGeneres compared to Johnny Carson? Bill Alexander to Bob Ross?

There are probably a great many reasons for this. Being alive probably helps a great deal, especially if you have access to a mass media audience and have something to promote.

Prior to television, the struggling artist relied on others and word of mouth to end their struggle. We could include glossy magazines, but Norman Rockwell seems to have cornered that market. (Bill outgoogles Norman.)

Artist Brands in the Social Media Age

Television, the internet and now social media has changed all that. Times change and so have perceptions, tastes and economics.

In addition to being human as well as famous, everyone in the observations above are also brands. When you have a recognizable name and/or face, you can sell a lot of stuff and you become even more famous. You can now get famous just by branding yourself.

I don't know if Bill Alexander or Bob Ross would have become "famous" without the benefit of a mass media outlet for what they did. I'm very certain the version of Bob Ross we see presented could not have existed before Bill Alexander getting to "famous" first.

My first recollection of Bob Ross brand marketing was the Chia Pet product. That didn't have much to do with art, but I am certain it made money for somebody, one way or another. But more importantly, it put Bob Ross' name out there in public view even more. Thus building the brand and generating even more revenue. Now I see commercials of a Bob Ross look-alike hawking prepare at home meals.

That's just good business if you look at it strictly from that perspective. A good business model is something to be admired.

I suspect one of the reasons Bill Alexander gets more Google results than even Bob Ross is likely because there are a great many more people using his name and/or image, as well as related products and services, to improve their own personal circumstances, financial or otherwise.

There just hasn't been a company or person that can out-market the Bob Ross brand or control it.

Just try getting images of Bob Ross compared to Bill Alexander. In many ways, the Bill Alexander name and/or image seems freely available, like public domain.

This isn't a bad thing.

Bill believed anyone who created something "great" would want to share the benefits of that creation with as many people as possible.

Like any artist Bill was thrilled just to make a good living doing art. Few have that opportunity and he knew it. (In 2014, 1.4 million Americans filed their taxes as artists. Their median income was just over $30,000 US annually.)

The "Happy Buck"

Bill talked to me about something called a "happy buck" long before he ever had any financial security. "It was money earned without hurting anybody.", he said, more or less. "And if you can earn a happy buck because of me, then go get 'em tiger." I would liken his attitude to paying it forward.

There are fast buck artists, and, there are happy buck artists. Bill Alexander was the latter.

So, from Bill's point of view, his name and accomplishments live on, and it would have made him very happy.

When it comes to art and artists, I don't know great from granola.

But I do know great in baseball. I played, ate, slept, studied, coached and loved that game for over sixty years and still going. Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson were GREAT. Aaron Judge and Hank Aaron are also great, but Babe Ruth set the standard for baseball home run greatness. And, just the number 42 evokes great character as well as talent greatness in baseball because Jackie Robinson not only set the standard, but he also overcame incredible obstacles to do so.

Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinsons are not only great. They are legends because they set the standard for baseball greatness and they moved the needle so others could pursue that passion should they choose, in the case of Jackie Robinson.

If there was such a thing in baseball, Babe and Jackie would be masters.

Bill's Impact on Artists

Before William "Bill" Alexander there was a vast wasteland of pseudo art for the hobbyist. Colouring books, Doodle Art and Paint by Numbers to name a few. Ordinary folk painting in oils on a canvas did not exist as a mass market before Bill Alexander arrived on the scene.

Bill Alexander set the standard and he moved the needle.

So, in my humble opinion, I do think he is a great artist and a master.

But, I thought he was great when he taught me how to fish long before he ever hit the television screen.

Not so Typical Alexander: Is this a Masterpiece?

Not so Typical Alexander: Is this a Masterpiece?

Winter Landscape Original Oil Painting by William "Bill" Alexander

Winter Landscape Original Oil Painting by William "Bill" Alexander

Finding a Home

In the next installment, I will share my experiences in attempting to find an appropriate home for Bill Alexander's masterpieces, as well as the very last painting he ever attempted to create. It was also the last joyful pursuit of his brand of magic.