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A Raw Discussion with Morgan Lang, founder of Art Revolution!
Thanks for doing the interview Morgan. Give the readers some background information about yourself?
I grew up in Southern California reasonably close to the beach, had the classic sun bleached, sandy-blonde hair and was a competitive swimmer and water polo player since I was a fetus. I did pretty well at school and as fate would have it for a future trans woman, I was the prom king as well as senior class president. Makes for interesting high school reunions :) I’ve lived in many different places and cities over the years and have been living in NYC for almost 16 years now. Myself and a business partner started and ran 9mmedia for most of my time in NYC; a 30 person technology firm that built web and mobile apps for startups in exchange for equity and cash. We shut 9mmedia down in late 2013 (for a lot of reasons) and I finally got up enough courage and confidence to come out of the closet in 2014 as a 38 year-old trans woman. I took a little time off to work on myself and then I put everything I’ve ever owned into funding and building my new company Art Revolution. I raised more capital for it in 2015, hired six employees and we’ve been working nonstop since then to create the largest and smartest social network for art that has ever lived.
What don’t you like about the current art industry?
I feel like the art world has been hijacked by galleries & investors who treat art like a commodity, that if you don't have a Masters in Fine Arts or enough money to buy fine art you’re not "allowed to play.” Art has become more about “how much it is worth” rather than the enjoyment it brings. I feel like most people are alienated and that most artists are overlooked. There’s this sense that independent artists are this abundant ocean of “feeder artists” that galleries pluck their next superstar from, whose career they will turn into glittering gold and will make sparkle like a thousand galaxies in exchange for 50% of their life. There are pros and cons for an artist going down the gallery route and there are as many good players in the scene as there are bad. Something just seems stuffy and stodgy about the whole thing though. A bit boring. Too much emphasis on the wrong stuff. A lot of people who pretend to have money, chasing after people who actually do have money. Overall the whole gallery scene just smells and tastes like buttholes and I wish everything was a lot more raw and real instead of fake and fancy and choreographed.
Can you tell us a little more about ArtRevolution.com?
Art Revolution is a world-wide social network specifically dedicated to independent art. It figures out your personal taste in art as you interact with the site and shows you more art you will probably love.
I started Art Revolution when I realized that 99% of artists are independent and 99% of people have never walked into a gallery. I started thinking of all the cool things I could build to help independent artists realize their passion, get discovered and sell their art without having to buy into the whole gallery scene or try to hock their art on some random, soulless, art site that demanded 30% or more of their revenue or paid them a $1-$2 royalty every time the site sold an iPhone sleeve or coffee mug or throw pillow with their art on it. That means if they sell 10 of these knick knack bullshit products with their art on it, they've got enough cash to buy a pack of smokes.
I thought there has got to be a better way.
What if that vast sea of independent artists started acting in unison and as one? What if we could organize all the independent artists in the world? What if the fingers became the fist? What if art were a nation? Independent artists have the numbers. We have the talent. We have the hunger and the drive. What if independent artists didn’t have to play the gallery game anymore because we had our entirely own industry? What if independent artists could carve out their own path instead of happening to get magically discovered by a gallery while they struggled to death? But it’s not “What if?” anymore. We’ve been creating it. It actually exists at ArtRevolution.com
I wanted to create a system where every artist and every piece of art started out with the same chance of getting seen by people everywhere in the world, where the critics were random people and other artists, not some small group of stuffy, old bags coughing up dust and tossing out bullshit sales pitches to justify ridiculous art prices. I wanted to build a system that learned an individual’s taste in art and showed them more art they would probably love so it would be easy for them to discover new art without being influenced by a sales process or without having to wade through miles of terrain to find a piece of art they really connected with. I thought it would be cool to build a system that was fun for users to experience on a daily basis that was always full of surprises. I wanted it to be simple and straightforward without having a million different sections and menu options. Where any artist could join and there was no censorship of any kind of art. I wanted Art Revolution to exist only if independent artists actually wanted us to exist which is one of the big reasons we allow artists to pay us any commission they choose between 0-30% whenever they sell a piece of art. I want our artists and their viewers and buyers to feel like they are the ones actually building the platform; that they are contributing to the revolution, that this platform is theirs. I wanted Art Revolution to be the way art should be; honest and raw and full of emotions.
Did you go to art school, if so where?
No, I never went to Art School, not in the formal sense. I studied Applied & Engineering Physics at Cornell University and it was after I graduated from college that I really got into art. I was working and living in East Bay in the San Francisco area, bored to tears with my 9-5 physics job so I started teaching myself how to paint and draw. I’ve never owned a TV, so when I got home from work I had all the time in the world. I was terrible at first but kept getting better and better and after a while, my own style emerged and I really got into my groove. I eventually quit my physics job and sold everything and traveled around Europe for a year with a small bundle of clothes, a set of stretcher bars and a big bag full of paints and brushes. I’d get a shitty room in some random hostel in some random city, buy some canvas, set up my gear and start working on a new painting. When it was done I’d break it down, wrap the finished canvas around my stretcher bars and go hit up another city. If I wasn’t painting I was going to whatever museum was in that city and would just sit there staring at different art pieces for hours and hours to figure out how the hell it was made. I remember going to some random Greek island and couldn’t find any canvas for sale. I was out drinking and carrying on a few nights later and got into a really good conversation with a local fisherman. I started telling him about my canvas dilemma and he took me down to the dock and gave me an old canvas sail that he didn’t know what to do with. The sailboat canvas had so much salt in it that when I stretched and cut it and started working on it, the paint started doing these crazy fractal designs and ended up being one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever created. It was one of the best years of my life.
Where do you live now?
I’ve lived in New York City for almost 16 years now. I love the constant energy and I feed off it. Whatever you want to do or whoever you want to hang out with, NYC has a bit of everything and a bit of everyone and at any time of day or night there’s always something going on. Also, most people are very accepting and because it’s so diverse, people aren’t afraid of showing their uniqueness to the world and just being themselves. New York has got some pretty sharp teeth as well. It’s a constant struggle just to live here but I think it’s worth it to be able to live in such a vibrant place with so much culture and so much art and so many lovely, lovely lunatics.
What inspires you (in general)?
Random street art. I love it when I’m just walking along and all of a sudden I see a piece of art that somebody just felt compelled to do. Like a random mural on the side of a side building. Or a painted fire hydrant. Or some weird sculpture built into a nook in-between two buildings. Or random art on the sidewalk that was made out of some material that was found in abundance. It reminds me that creativity is everywhere and is in all of us and I admire the artists that act on those creative impulses because it adds a little sparkle to my day and it makes all of our lives a little brighter.
I also get quite a bit of inspiration from dancing. Mostly to House and Techno and almost entirely in the underground warehouses and hidden venues out in Brooklyn. Most formal clubs are a bit too posh for my taste with all their rules and security and bottle service bullshit. When I go out dancing, which is pretty much every weekend, all weekend, I really get into the music and feel it reverberate through my entire mind and body. There is a certain bliss that comes from being deeply connected to the music and letting the synchronicity from the rhythms flow into my moves. It’s my meditation, my creative flow, my exercise, my social life and ultimately how I get my best thinking done. I write a pretty raw blog about my experiences in the NYC underground, just for shits and giggles. http://www.shutupanddance.nyc
What role does the artist have in society?
I like to think of artists as the seeds of new beginnings. If you look at almost any neighborhood that is or ever was “cool”, it’s probably because a bunch of artists live(d) there. The buildings and the streets ooze with their passion and you could feel the creativity dripping out of the air. The artists that move there seem to have a different attitude on life than most people. They love to make and create things with their hands and feel compelled to execute on their ideas directly into their community.
The SoHo neighborhood in NYC used to be super cheap and poor and run down. A ton of artists moved in and their mere presence started shaping and building the culture and personality of the neighborhood. Now, it’s one of the most known and loved neighborhoods in the world. Williamsburg in Brooklyn had all these massive, vacant industrial warehouses and buildings that artists were living in and creating their art in… now it’s overrun in its own coolness, so much so that the artists have left.
The artists always seem to leave after they make a place cool. It gets too expensive, it gets too gentrified, and it loses that raw appeal to them. It’s no longer a blank canvas. They move off somewhere else and create new communities and make them vibrant for years and years to come. Artists always find a way. They make it work. They build character and charisma into communities. Their creations help people see the world differently. Artists make the world a better place. They have that raw creativity that flows through their blood that compels them to manifest their thoughts into real life so the rest of the world can understand and see and feel from different perspectives. So everyone can feel more alive.
I hope someday Art Revolution will be big enough to help start and build enclaves of artists in various, beaten down cities around the world to help revitalize them and breathe life and soul into them. Add some beauty and hope and uniqueness so that all its citizens can be proud to call it home again. I love what the artists and musicians are doing in Detroit right now, it’s going to grow into the next massive hub in our nation for creativity and art.
What are you currently working on?
I work on Art Revolution pretty much all the time. When I’m not working on Art Revolution, I’m out dancing for days at a time. I’m not really sure there’s much else I do these days besides work and dance. There isn’t too much that I’m that deeply passionate about in life right now besides those two things. I haven’t made my own art in a while, but I will. I never force myself into making art, it sort of just happens in its own time frame. It’s one of the reasons I have a healthy relationship with my art and it’s also one of the reasons why I’ll never be a professional artist.
How did your family/friends react when you came out?
Before I came out to anyone, I asked myself a really important question. “Morgan, if you came out and all your friends stopped hanging out with you, your whole family disowned you, your business network decided they didn’t want to deal with you any longer, and you had to move to some random country and flip burgers for the rest of your life- would you still come out??” It’s a tough question with a zillion little complexities to it, however, my answer was a resounding YES. So in effect, when I came out I had nobody, they were already “gone” in my head. The friends and family members that accepted me were able to come back into my life and those that didn’t accept me are just not in my life. Simple. But of course it’s not so easy as a binary “I accept you” or “I don’t accept you,” people's acceptance of me has much to do with simply letting more time pass and getting used to the female Morgan. I still have a few brothers and a few friends that I used to be very close with that are now sitting on the outer fringe of my life. They have different values and they hope to get different things out of life than I do and for a variety of reasons, they feel that my existence isn’t compatible with their existence. I suspect that time will either make them miss me enough to sincerely apologize and come back into my life or it will make me give fewer shits about them not being around.
A lot of people try to put themselves into my shoes and quickly imagine all the horrors that would ensue if they were me. But if they put themselves into my mind as well, not just my shoes, then they would see how clear of a path I am on and how happy I am and that it’s not nearly as horrible as they imagined it would be for me. Don't get me wrong though, it's not always sunshine and lollipops either.
No matter how you slice it, there’s going to be some fall out. The thing that really irritates me though is when somebody tells me that I threw it all away. Or when a good friend does the heart-to-heart, sit-down conversation with me asking if I’m really sure I want to do this. They say, “Morgan, you had it made! You were a successful white, male living in NYC, running your own software firm, dating beautiful women, making good money…WTF?? How the fuck are you going to live? How the fuck are you going to get a job? Everyone is going to think you’re a freak? You’re going to be an outcast! You really want to give that all up?” First of all, people think it’s a choice but the fact is that it’s not really a choice at all, it’s more of a reality I knew I was going to have to face eventually. I could either keep going, being miserable and getting more and more miserable….or….I could come out. Be the full, honest version of myself but face the entire world's judgement. I would easily give up a successful life with deep internal torment than live an unknown life in my own true skin.
Do you perceive life much differently than before you came out?
I do. Quite a bit different actually. I find that being on hormone therapy really allows me to see the world from a perspective I’ve always dreamt about. I take medication that zeroes out the testosterone in my system and I take regular doses of estrogen in daily pills and bi-weekly shots.
I remember what it used to be like on the other side of the fence as a male and with testosterone coursing through my veins and now that there is none, there are a lot of things that have changed. First of all, I have almost zero sex drive. It’s amazing because I feel like I get at least 25-50% of my time back because I’m not always thinking about or trying to hunt someone down to fuck. It’s not like I don’t have sex or enjoy sex anymore, it’s just that my actions aren’t driven by it. There’s a strange and comfortable serenity in that.
I also find that I’m much more empathetic and compassionate for others, especially for other minorities and people that have had it rough in some way or another. We give these little, subtle and knowing nods to each other on the subways and streets. There’s a bond there, knowing that you’re both in the middle of, or have gotten through, some heavy internal reflection and / or strife. There's this unspoken understanding.
I've also come to accept the fact that I will never again be a man and somehow I will never quite attain full womanhood. When I came to accept this truth, I got a little more confidence in who I was and where I was heading. I don’t think people can accept others until they’ve truly accepted themselves…and I don’t think that many people have truly accepted themselves...or have really given it much of a thought for that matter.
I am also subject to quite a bit more scrutiny than I’ve ever been used to. Every time I go out in public, even if it’s to pick up some Thai food around the block, no matter what, without a doubt…people are always looking at me, muttering under their breath about me. Staring. Guessing. "Is that a boy or a girl?" "Oh my god, oh my god….there’s one!” The amount of ridiculous shit I’ve heard people say about me in background conversations I overhear just blows my mind and sometimes cracks me up. I’ve come to accept the fact that no matter how much I try to go under cover or be low key, I’m constantly on display for the world to see, to gawk at, to poke fun of, to admire, to loathe and to love. My skin got really thick, really fast...armor-plated stegosaurus type thick. Although I will admit, sometimes a person will say the smallest, most trivial thing to me or about me and it will set me off crying for two days. I do have a very sensitive side to me, but I try not to waste my sensitivity on meaningless remarks or on people that don't deserve it. Most of the time though, I’m tough as fucking nails, especially for the meaningless banter and snide comments.
Hearing everything and from everyone...all of it...the good, the bad and the ugly; has helped me understand the psyche of others a lot better. I see patterns in what people say and do and have started to understand what that might mean about that particular person. It helps me understand the best way to break the ice with new people so we can get through the uncomfortable, “I don’t know how to act around you” and “I don’t know how to speak to you” phases a lot faster. It’s complex as all Hell, but when you live every day of your life as the anomaly, the concept of “normal" suddenly becomes quite abstract.
Also, I'm amazingly lucky to have always been named Morgan, one less thing I had to cope with. It really is great to finally live as a woman.
What improvements would you like to see happen for the LGBTQ community in the future?
I think the LGBTQ community is kicking ass! Same sex marriage is becoming legal in tons of places. People everywhere are really starting to understand there is a spectrum of sexual preference and gender identity. Trans people are finally being treated like humans. For example, people might say, wow, that person is different and has a totally different thought process around sex and gender than I do….but they are a person….and they are different…but they are a human just like me. That’s a big step forward. I remember growing up as a teenager in the 80’s…trans people were not considered humans back then. I remember seeing a person react very poorly and violently to a trans woman and every time I thought about coming out, my brain would just replay that scene and I would stay in the closet.
It’s pretty horrifying to come out, especially as a trans woman. I don’t mean like scary roller coaster type temporarily horrifying…I’m talking about deep seeded, prolonged, agonizing, pit-in-your-gut terror with night sweats and mental paralysis and suicidal thoughts type horrifying that goes on for years. But once you’re out...you’re OUT! No hiding it. Then comes the challenge of sinking into your own new skin and watching yourself bumble around foolishly and naively like a newborn with 6 foot long legs, some missing appendages and some extra appendages. Trying to get the hang of re-syncing your brain and body into society. I think it would be really cool for the LGBTQ community to have more “meet-up” groups where people could go just to listen to trans people talk about how they came out and the challenges they faced. It would really empower people that are still in hiding, who are not sure what lies on the other side of “making the leap."
But, we’ve come a long way! When Jenner came out, there was a noticeable change in how people treated me, strangers and friends alike. Almost everyone used to look at me like I was a freak, but then after Jenner came out it was only about half the people that looked at me like I was a freak. That’s a big change! Thanks Caitlyn!
Then there was the national bathroom issue that was waged on a global scale against trans people. But holy fucking shit was that the best thing that has EVER happened to trans people! It forced almost every single American family, young and old to process the thoughts of who and what trans people are. Why we exist. What pronouns we like to be referred to as (I’m a girl. She / her). Where we pee...etc. The whole argument and divisiveness was so ridiculous that other countries started catching wind of America's latest bathroom drama and were broadcasting it to people all over the world. You can’t plan a PR campaign like that. It was a brilliant cosmic and karmic coincidence! It was massive! So much awareness in such a lighting fast timeframe. Since then, so many more people understand me better, feel more conformable around me, ask me questions more freely, talk to me openly….etc. Even strangers I see on the streets stop me to say hello, or compliment me on my dress or my hair or tell me that I’m beautiful or give me random high fives. Awareness is a beautiful and powerful thing. And, apparently so are bathrooms.
I cannot tell you how much it makes my day when somebody gives me one of those tiny, little compliments that I know are not meant for the words but are meant for the support and to empower me on my journey…however weird or lovely or distressed or awesome that journey might be.
What’s pissing you off most at the moment?
Strangely enough, it’s actually smartphones and most smartphone users that piss me off to no end. People tune into their phones more than their immediate surroundings and they never seem to be ‘present’. People pretend to be ‘present’ when they’re having a conversation with you, but they’re really glancing down at their phone intermittently and mentally thinking how to respond back to whatever text they just received. People leave their phones on the lunch or dinner table and barely interact with the person or people they are eating with. Then the other person gets bored so they pick up their phone too. The saddest scene in the world is seeing a couple out to dinner at a restaurant and both of them are so deeply engrossed in their phones that they don’t even notice when the waiter has brought them their food. People lie in bed with each other and instead of one person being on their back, both people are on their backs holding up their phones and checking their fucking email or their Facebook or whatever the fuck might be more important than having a good conversation or good sex with their partner. Blows my mind how zombified our culture has become.
Or what really gets under my skin...more than it probably should...is when I’m out dancing and there’s bangin’, juicy beats cranking with everyone groovin’ and boogyin’ and some clueless person rolls up to where I’m dancing and parks right next to me or in front of me and they just stand there and start fiddling with their fucking phone. There’s a special spot in Hell for people like that and I’m not talking about the “Fun kind of Hell” where all non-Christians are banished to…I’m talking about the “you’ve been an asshole your whole life” kind of Hell.
I play a little game every time I get on the subway and count the ratio of people on their phones versus not on their phones. I don’t even count the people that are just listening to their headphones and it’s still usually 7 out of 10 people having a blinking contest with their phone. NYC is the craziest, most vibrant place in the world, with every kind of person! It’s the world’s largest, human zoo and anything can happen at any moment….and it DOES happen!! Except nobody has a clue. They miss it because they've got their nose stuck up their phone’s ass. Or, they finally won some stupid, brain-melting, gimmicky fucking game. People play games on their phones that are so goddamn senseless that the sole purpose of the most popular one is to crush cartoon candies faster than the computer can generate them.
Wake up you shit-fuckers!!! Put down your phone and pay attention to your own life!! All anyone ever truly has on this planet is time and you’re never going to get your wasted, zombie time back! Never. It’s gone.
But, the reality is that you’re probably reading some version of this interview on your phone right now so fuck it, I give up.
Is there a town or place in the world you consider inspiring?
Burning Man at Black Rock City or any other Burning Man inspired event or festival. No matter how much it changes, for the better or worse, no matter who the new or old people are that go, its ethos does not change. It is 70,000 of the most creative people on the planet completely immersed in some of the world’s best art and music, living in absolute freedom and harmony without cars or money or rules or regulations for one whole week. ONE WHOLE WEEK! The effect that has on people is tremendous. The spirit of complete immersion in the art and the pure freedom and creativity of Burning Man goes back home with people to wherever they live in the world and starts poking its way into their regular lives and they start seeing more possibilities of what life could be like outside the status quo. It changes people’s relationships with each other, with money, with things, with art, with their experiences in life. I think Burning Man has had an extremely positive effect on the world and the people that go tend to become better versions of themselves when they come back. No matter what you've heard or how much you've heard it has changed, give Burning Man a good, hard look. Anyone can go but it's not for everyone.
Can you give the readers your Website and Social Profiles so they can check you out...
The desktop version is the the most complete piece of our platform ArtRevolution.com and you can access a basic version of the site on your mobile browser.
Help Us Spread The Word
We are not a big company and we don’t have a big marketing budget, we mostly rely on people who love what we’re doing to spread the word. So please tell an artist or an art lover or anyone else you think might enjoy more art in their lives. Send them the link to ArtRevolution.com or share our site through any of the social channels.
Looking for individual investors
Lastly, we're raising another small round of capital right now and are looking for individual/private investors. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org you love what we are doing and want to learn more about investing in us.
Anything you’d like to add?
Vive la revolution!
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