Jackie Reeve on Roger Ebert and Discovering Her Love of Painting

Noodle Expert Jackie Reeve discusses her admiration for Robert Ebert and how not getting into an interior design program allowed her to discover her love of painting.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Roger Ebert. He was a film critic, but really, he was a cultural critic. I was a huge movie geek as a kid, and I read his writings like they were gospel. When he got sick, he was just so open and honest about his life and experiences. I'd want to learn about how he saw the world, how pop culture and art intersect, and comment on the world at large. He sort of famously never watched TV, instead he watched movies and read books. I'd want him to give me a reading list for life.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

My mom told me to major in whatever I wanted as an undergraduate and then to get my master's in something more specialized. So I majored in art as an undergrad and loved everything about it. A semester or so after I declared my major, my mom suggested I pick up a double major in English. It meant more time in school, but I was already a good writer and a voracious reader. She said an art degree is wonderful, but double majoring in English means when I apply for jobs, people will know that I have good communication skills. That advice was 100 percent correct. The art degree was great for my soul, but the English degree was great for my job prospects.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Italy. I think it's important to learn to navigate a place where you don't speak the language. Italians are incredibly warm and tolerant of foreign attempts to speak Italian, so it's a good starter country for that. If you make an effort, they will go out of their way to help you. And you have to learn some street smarts to avoid things like pickpockets (I learned this the hard way). These are all great life skills. Plus, art! Architecture! Pasta! The rewards are huge.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I tried interior design as a major when I was first accepted into my university's art school. I loved it, but honestly, I wasn't very good. I had an eye for color, but I was a messy drafter. When I got past the intro courses and needed to submit a portfolio to move on in the program, I spent weeks redoing two semesters worth of projects to try and get them perfect. I still didn't get into the program, and I was devastated. All of that extra work for nothing. On all of my room drawings, I used to throw in little improvised paintings on the walls. My professor, the head of the program, pulled me aside and gave me the best pep talk about not every program being right for every person, and instead of turning me away to figure out life all by myself, he talked about my little abstracts and said, "Honey, you are a painter!"

It had never occurred to me to try painting. I enrolled in a summer intro class two weeks later. It was like coming home, I loved it more than I'd loved anything else. I learned that failing can open the door to something completely unexpected. I learned that great teachers can sometimes see what you are before you do. And I learned that there's a way to deliver bad news without destroying someone's sense of self.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

My mom and my aunt are retired librarians, and I never thought I'd go into the family business. I knew I wanted to teach, but I was working towards a certification as an art teacher. I didn't think librarians were creative. Then, I saw my mom give a talk on how to encourage summer reading for kids. It kind of hit me, "I could be a school librarian." It combined my love for reading with my love of art (there are amazing illustrators working in #kidlit). Teaching kids is everything I thought it would be, but I have less time to read than I thought I would. When you're writing lesson plans, building a collection, and working with your administration, it takes hard work to make time to read and keep up with the new books.

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