I am reading a biography of the impressionist painter Renoir, written by his son. It is a beautiful painting of a world in transition: from the post-napoleonic restoration until the carnage of WWI, passing through 1848, the Commune, electrification, railways and industrial production. Possibly the biggest transformation ever experienced by man, and comparable to the one we are living today.
It is also a story of innovation and innovators. Of a group of painters that defy all conventions to follow their artistic instinct and impose an entire new approach to visual arts. They weren't received well. A reporter for Le Figaro wrote about the first exhibition of their work:
"The innocent pedestrian, attracted by the flags put up outside, goes in to have a look. But what a crule spectable meets his frightened eyes! Five or six lunatics -one of them a woman- make up a group of poor wretches who have succumbed to the madness of ambition [...] Some people are content to laugh at such things. But it makes me sad at heart."
and here is another one, from La Presse:
"...the practitioner falls into a senseless confusion, completely mad, grotesque and, fortunately, without precedent i the annals of art. For it is nothing less than the negation of the most elementary rules of drawing and painting [...] one is inclined to wonder if there has not been a deliberate attempt to mystify the public."
All other reviews follow the same pattern: shock, disgust, and laughter.
It is the inevitable faith of all real innovators to be laughed at. To be dismissed as jokers, lunatics, people that have lost touch with reality. It reminded me about the famous "what's this internet thing" video. . There was also another video, which I cannot find now, where Steve Jobs is introduced by the host dismissively as a "computer geek".
Today, founders and investors of technology startups are seldom laughed at. On the contrary, they are celebrated and revered as the saviours of our time. They have gone from villain to heroes, even before proving much about what they are doing. The tables are turned and nobody wants to be the fool on youtube who laughed about the internet.
But there is something missing here. Who are the true innovators, who is being laughed at today?
I keep asking myself this question, and I don't have a definite answer.
Beside their increasing popularity, bitcoin, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies (or the solutions they enable) might fit in to this picture. People skipping the conventional fund raising circuit and issuing their own tokens instead. A handful of visionaries that dare to imagine a future free from centralised sources of power, money and data.
There are also the "common" men and women working in larger corporations or in public services. The "incumbent" are laughed at all the time.
I never feel at ease when people laugh about something or someone too much.