How many times have you toiled away on a project, stood back when it was finished and basked in the pride of a job well done, and then watched in horror as others trashed it? You knew it was great… why didn’t these fools see it?
Here are 10 inspiring tales of creative works that were vilified by so-called experts but went on to change the world, despite — or maybe because of — their ignoring the norms and expectations of those around them.
1. The Apple 1984 Commercial. When originally shown to Apple’s board, the groundbreaking “Big Brother” spot showing a woman hurling a hammer at a giant screen representing the IBM PC and its clones, was almost killed before it aired. But Steve Jobs defied his board and got it shown during the Superbowl, and the spot was later declared by Advertising Age, TV Guide and others as the greatest commercial of all time.
2. The Sony Walkman. Conceived by Akio Morita of Sony so he could listen to opera recordings while on long flights, The Walkman was trashed by Sony executives as a loser since it could only play recordings and not actually record. But Morita stuck to his vision and the Walkman went on to change how people listened, empowering them to take their favorite music, audio books and other content wherever they went.
3. It’s a Wonderful Life. First it was a story by Philip Van Doren Stern, who could not get it published after writing it in 1939. He ended up sending copies to friends as Christmas gifts in 1943. A copy made its way to Hollywood, where it was adapted into a number of screenplays that went nowhere. RKO, the studio “stuck” with the project, duped “washed-up” director Frank Capra into buying the script. Capra made the film, which received lukewarm critical reaction and lost money at the box office. But despite all odds, the film outlived all the naysayers, and is loved by hundreds of millions, more than 60 years after it was deemed a failure.
4. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. “If I don’t have your confidence – to hell with the whole thing.” Such was Frank Lloyd Wright’s answer when his client, department store magnate Edward J. Kaufmann questioned his vision for the home built over a waterfall in a rural area southwest of Pittsburgh, PA. Ultimately, Wright was able to earn Kaufmann’s complete confidence in the building project, which gained national attention and the inevitable backlash of the architectural intelligentsia, some of whom labeled it as folly and not structurally sound. Today the Fallingwater home is acknowledged as one of the most important archictectural achievements in American history.
5. Harry Potter. Author J.K. Rowling’s original manuscript Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers. One editor told the aspiring author to get a day job since she would never make money in children’s books. A £8000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council held her over until Scholastic won an auction to publish the book in the US for $105,000.
6. Star Wars. United Artists, which had financed George Lucas’ first major movie, American Graffiti, had a deal in which it would also fund production of Star Wars, but it backed out, believing no one would want to see it. Lucas shopped it around to all the major studios, and almost every one passed. He finally got a deal with 20th Century Fox, but one that earned him a minuscule fee, since he had the foresight to instead negotiate merchandising rights, which would end up making him much more money.
7. Mozart. “Too many notes, Mozart,” was a famous criticism leveled by Emperor Joseph II, complaining about The Marriage of Figaro. Some prominent music “experts” of the day dismissed the work of one of history’s undisputed musical geniuses as “too strongly spiced,” “impenetrable labyrinths,” “bizarre flights of the soul,” “overloaded and overstuffed.”
8. Vincent Van Gogh. The art world of Van Gogh’s time wasn’t ready for his new Expressionism, and his works were criticized as bleak, dark and lacking liveliness of the more popular Impressionist artists. Van Gogh enjoyed little to no recognition during his life, and sold just one painting. He committed suicide, and in the years that followed, his prolific life work of 900+ paintings finally received the accolades they deserved.
9. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. Not all of Darwin’s critics opposed him on religious grounds. His ground-breaking theories on evolution riled many of his peers, who challenged his notions as foolish. Darwinism took decades to truly catch on to the point that it is widely taught around the world as the most plausible explanation of the evolution of life forms.
10. The Declaration of Independence. Yes, even the most important document in the history of the United States was criticized at the time of its writing. A committee of founding fathers tossed around the original phrasing of Thomas Jefferson, some of whom were harshly critical of his choice of words. Passages were revised or rewritten by the group, though Jefferson’s original words ended up largely intact, and the Declaration is now widely praised for its eloquence.
We know we’re leaving out a lot of other tales of inspiration nearly squashed. Please share your favorites!