Paul Klein Innovating, Setting Trends at 70

Paul Klein has 93+ videos on his Klein Artist Works YouTube Channel with almost a half a million views. He has another 300 video interviews with artists, curators, art critics and arts leaders, the essence of which were culled into a book, The Art Rules: Wisdom and Guidance from Art World Experts. 500 artists from around the globe have taken his online course that he launched in 2011, Klein Artist Works, which is about “empowering artists by demystifying their world.”

And this is just what he’s been up to in his sixties.

Hear snippets from the Paul Klein interview here (see below for the link to the full interview).

From Gallery Owner to Demystifying the Art World

Now 70, Paul has had a long and illustrious career in the arts, including owning a bricks and mortar gallery from 1981 to 2004, with one rebuild after the first gallery burned down in 1989. Highlights of “stuff” that happened between the closing of the gallery and today include being head of The Bridge Group, curating the art collection for McCormick Place, being the 2006 Man of the Year for Chicago Society of Artists. His Artletter enews review of upcoming gallery shows reached a zenith of over 10,000 subscribers before he deemed it “too much like resembling work” and stopped publishing it a few years ago. (He’s been written about a lot, so rather than recapping, here’s a nice article from Irreversible Magazine.)

With abundant stereotypes of “seniors” and “technology,” (none of which apply to Paul) my questions for him were more about transforming and staying relevant as one ages.  “I don’t think anybody cares about my age. It’s not like I go to my kids’ parties,” he quips.

Staying Ahead of the Trends

In fact, he thinks he actually has the opposite problem when it comes to keeping up with trends: he’s often ahead of the curve. “I go in too early and leave too soon,” he says, thinking of being the first gallery in River West when no one was there and then selling that gallery a few years before Google moved into the building across the street. “Can you imagine what it would be worth now?” he ponders. The closing of the gallery also had to do with being ahead of his time. Art was becoming more digital and he was going with it. At one of his last shows he joked that people said “nice gallery, Paul, where’s the art?”

So what drove Paul to this amazing online, international success with Klein Artist Works? “I chose to focus on the intersection of what I’m good at and what I like: Teaching and Art…I think whatever age you are you should do what you like.”

The Klein Artist Works course “meets every Monday evening in live webinars to discuss your specific questions (live) about the various webinars we’ve been listening to the previous week. It’s a lot like sitting around the living room, seeing everyone, chatting, learning, and not judging. And, just by taking the course, you get access to all 300+ webinar recordings—forever.” There’s a Facebook community of a couple hundred artists from Nigeria to Australia to Bali and Victoria, all who have taken the course and who stay connected and support one another…or to find a place to stay when traveling to Hong Kong.

Mastering Digital Technology

“By trial and error,” is Paul’s description of his scientific approach to learning new technology. In watching his videos, some are too dark, babies are crying, one (with several thousand views) is in a coffee shop with loud ambient noise. But the content is real and powerful. In fact, it’s the lack of polish that shouts Paul’s authenticity and bravery—so many people think they need to master the technology and make it perfect before posting. He just does it.

The only one that made him pause was an early video where he realized he was eating with his mouth open the whole time. “It was embarrassing.” But “editing is a pain in the butt,” says Paul. And so there it is. “I also don’t think I’m the only one with an aesthetic sense,” he adds. Meaning that he was comfortable turning over hours of raw footage of full course videos to someone to edit into 3 to 5 minute excerpts to use for promotion. “It wasn’t the same pieces I would have chosen, but it was good enough.”

Paul has a chicken coop in his back yard (in Chicago) where he can get fresh eggs for breakfast. He thrives on outrageous ideas—his or anyone’s. And getting others to implement his top of mind ideas is even more fun…like his recent suggestion to artist Jorge Mañes Rubio that Jorge tell the European Space Agency that they needed an Artist in Residence. “But they don’t have an Artist in Residence,” said Jorge. “That’s why they need one,” reasoned Paul. “Okay” said Jorge…and now Jorge is in that role, designing a temple for the south side of the Moon for when it’s colonized. “This is what I get to do” says Paul.

Perhaps it’s his “anything is possible” vibe that is so inspiring. “This stuff isn’t mysterious, scary, foreboding, or difficult. We’ve just been conditioned to believe there’s a wall right in front of us. Not so! There’s a Welcome mat.”

“My only goal every day is to contribute, and then I’m not a user. I want to contribute more today than I did yesterday; I don’t want to die, so I better contribute more tomorrow than I did today.”

24 hours after our conversation, Paul sent a note and put it this way:

In my sleep . . .

We don’t get to be here for nuthin’
We are here for a reason.
If we stop honoring that reason,
The justification for our here-ness stops.

There are dues to be paid.
So we contribute.
Don’t pay. Don’t stay.

Seems obvious.

Hear snippets from the interview here.

Hear the full interview here.