[MS@45] Enhanced Artifact Spotlight: Happy Accidents in Microsoft Paint with Bob Ross
By James O.
MS Paint Resources:
Through 31 seasons of his seminal show “The Joy of Painting,
” Bob Ross
sought to foster the dormant landscape painter in everyone. The show evoked Ross’s sentiment that “there’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us.” Ross’s lullaby cadence and tender mastery of his craft reached out through the warmth of public-access grain, captivating American audiences throughout the 80s and 90s—his charm marking these generations with nostalgia as deep and gooey as his impasto. Its prominent syndication and persistence on today’s streaming platforms have cemented his impact as a totem of art-making’s universal draw.
Many who grew up regularly transfixed by Ross, shaping his famous playful clouds and happy little trees on their family TV sets, also saw the increasing proliferation of personal computers situate the desktop computer as a mainstay in the modern American household. Today, these computers and the software we ran on them exist as artifacts of our collective interactive memory. And in the same way Ross inspired viewers to pick up the brush, Microsoft Paint left its mark as many peoples’ first foray into digital art.
[If you still haven't gotten enough of MS Paint, join us online this Sunday, 4/5 at 10am PT for a very special live-streaming MS Paint & Sip activity! Open to adults and children of all-ages from the comfort of your own home!]
Debuting in 1985 on Windows 1.0
, the first version of Windows, Microsoft Paint was Windows’ basic graphics utility that featured a bare-bones layout with which millions of wide-eyed first-time computer users created their own pixelated masterpieces, embodying that Bob Ross ethos of the innate artist in each of us. It’s hard to say if Microsoft Paint’s rudimentary interface was as charming back then as it became in retrospect, but it is certain that the creative constraints that it imposed challenged nascent desktop users to think outside the box and “paint” in an unprecedented way, rolling with our “happy accidents” just like Bob Ross encouraged us to.
Though today Microsoft Paint is often spoken of with derision for its clunkiness and the crude artwork it usually produced, the software has generated a profound generational affection. So, when Microsoft announced that it would retire the beloved program in 2017, folks who grew up fumbling with MS Paint’s clumsy controls flooded to social media in collective mourning of that little piece of their childhoods. Responding to this outpouring, Microsoft included Paint in the following build of Windows 10, and placed it in the Windows Store, placating the Internet’s nostalgic grief.
Microsoft’s general manager of the 3D for Everyone initiative, Megan Saunders, in response to the public reaction said, “Today, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia around MS Paint. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans. It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app.”
For those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, these memories of noodling around with MS Paint
and of the times sitting mesmerized by the ease of Bob Ross’s brush recall an essential sense of childhood wonder. At Living Computers: Museum + Labs, we invite guests to sit down and take a moment to be inspired by the familiar glow of vintage painting and drawing software: MS Paint, running on one of our vintage Windows 98 desktops, and Dazzle Draw for the Apple ][ GS, up and running for guests to relive, backdropped by the sounds of Bob Ross’s soothing instruction in our Digital Art Studio.
[A full list of MS@45 content, resources and the schedule for our online experiences on the weekend of April 4-5 can be found here. Join in the celebration with us! #MSFT45]