Bateman was always interested in art, but never intended to make a living from it. He was fascinated by the natural world in his childhood; he recorded the sightings of all of the birds in the area of his house in Toronto. He found inspiration from the Group of Seven and was also interested in making abstract paintings of nature.
Robert Bateman's show in 1987, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, drew a large crowd for a living artist. He is a recipient of both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.