Break a Rule: Ed Paschke's Art & Teaching

Photo Courtesy of  The Remodern Review

Photo Courtesy of The Remodern Review

By Sam Baldwin

Chicagoan artist Ed Paschke taught in Northwestern’s Art Theory and Practice department from 1977 until 2004. His success in the art world informed his teaching, and he structured his artistic and educational practice around three principles:

1) Learn the rules in order to break them,

2)  Trust your gut, and

3) Get out of your comfort zone.


Paschke’s work is currently on display in Northwestern University’s Block Museum, but, a Paschke exhibition could not be complete without giving adequate attention to his dedication to teaching. His “Break a Rule” exhibition highlights the ways in which Paschke’s personal creations, and his pedagogical materials are intertwined. Through his brightly colored prints of societal “outliers” such as burlesque dancers and “lucha libre” wrestlers, Paschke follows his own teachings – he breaks rules and leaves traditional artistic styles behind. His highly saturated and repetitive prints are reminiscent of Warhol, but their distortive and imaginative nature put a twist on traditional ideas of Pop Art.


Paradoxically, what stood out most in the exhibit were Paschke’s teaching materials. Teaching art can sometimes seem counterintuitive: techniques and artistic “rules” can be passed down, but such teachings can be confining to students. How do you teach originality and creativity? Paschke had a unique talent for instilling passion and creativity in his students. His “Teach Philosophy” is on display in the exhibition and it states that although showing examples can be helpful, “it is equally important to stimulate and encourage the use of imagination.” His drawing of “Self Portrait Ideas” fits that ideal once again, showing options ranging from a normal, straight on portrait to a Picasso-esque portrait using broken planes. Paschke’s prints are just as vibrant as his teaching materials, and are sure to inspire. Even a quick visit to the exhibition is bound to put any budding artist in the mood to create – and maybe even break a few rules.