At face value, the program isn't particularly impressive. As Patrick Davison surmised
in the Journal of Visual Culture
, “If innovation and technical elegance were the only standards of a medium’s historical or cultural merit, there would not be much to say about MS Paint.”
But, as artist Jeffrey Alan Scudder notes, its lack of sophistication is precisely the reason MS Paint has developed such a following. “The crude but easily identifiable aesthetic is pretty easy to abide by when just messing about,” says Scudder, who has also led digital painting courses at UCLA and Parsons. “It’s no big deal to surf around in MS Paint and make a picture that looks like it was made in MS Paint. The products of the tool have a very strong identity that leads back to the source.”
Today, MS Paint actually serves as an umbrella term for a series of different programs that were developed by Microsoft over several decades. The first, Windows Paint, was released to the public in 1985 as a part of the Windows 1.0 operating system. Apple had unveiled its own graphics editing software, MacPaint, with much fanfare a year earlier; Windows Paint was intended to serve as a direct competitor.
Both programs were steeped in the terminology of the time. By the 1980s, the difference between “drawing” and “painting” computer programs had been firmly established—the former utilized vectors to create perfectly crisp geometric shapes, while the latter used blocks of color (called “rasters”) that could be switched on or off and resulted in blocky, pixelated edges.