"The goal of the artist should be to inspire bravery in the face of insurmountable odds." This is just one of the many rallying cries from the soulful poet and artist Penny Moon.
Though she has traveled the globe from British Columbia to Croatia and everywhere in between, she seems just as happy at home with her husband, Brook, her best friend of fifteen years, at their home in Canada. Digital art and writing are her current media of choice, though she admits to loving many others--acrylic on canvas, mixed media, and woodworking. She says:
"As I’ve grown up, my art has changed to forms and mediums that express who I am and my experience at that moment in my life. I started out working with paint on canvas, but we couldn’t always afford canvas growing up, so oftentimes, I'd work on cardboard or pieces of wood my dad would bring home from the construction site. Quickly I gravitated to larger and larger canvases to paint on, which became a problem as we moved a lot, which is why I think now I like digital art so much. It’s effortless to take with me, and the canvas can be as large as I want and still fit in the palm of my hand."
Hearing such a trajectory, it's easy to imagine someone with flawless confidence, but Penny tells a different story, one very familiar to neurodivergent humans and artists alike. While her parents nurtured her at home with literature from Shakespeare to the Psalms, the education system was busy doing the opposite-unequivocally failing her as a dyslexic student and making her believe that the failure was her fault. They told her she was unteachable, that she would never learn to read and write, and that they couldn't let her graduate. With those early blows shipwrecking her self-worth, it's no wonder she's so passionate in her wish to change the way we educate our children. She asks us to consider how this might be done:
"We always ask kids, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' but then we laugh. I used to say I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still want that, but that is not an option for me because I failed so early in life. But my natural talents have always been in the arts, and I successfully thrived in art class because I believed I could. What if we believed in our children?"
As a result of these experiences, she admits that she's been afraid to share herself with the world. Even though she feels terrified sometimes about how she'll be received, she knows there are a lot worse things that can happen in life than people not believing in you or liking you. This leads her to a nuanced stance on people's opinions of her work. Sometimes she corrects her mistakes in Instagram posts when people comment that they can't read what she's written. Other times, she leaves the mistakes alone because "It's about not being ashamed of my mistakes...my work is not always polished, but it is always honest." Maybe this is why, whether her figures look at the audience or off into the hopeful future, you can feel this bravery, this resilience in them. Her words, influenced by Cummings and Hemingway, are equally poignant in their simplicity.
When we ask Penny what work she's most proud of, she says that her Bible character series is her greatest pride. A devout Jehovah's Witness, she's motivated by her "quest to become closer to [her] creator," and this series is one way she does that in an authentic and honest way. "When I come across a character that speaks to me, I want to draw them to pay homage to their bravery and to make sure I never forget who they were." She says these characters have been met with a lot of love and intrigue, and she plans on continuing to depict them, especially the women. You can sense her kinship with these characters: "Women who have seen and lived through hard times, and yet are full of bravery and confidence, freedom, and life."
Since she considers herself still an unknown, with her greatest accomplishments yet to come, her advice for aspiring artists rings true, especially since many neurodivergent artists start their artistic journey as a form of therapy:
"Never try and create based on what you think other people would want to see. You must know yourself and know your heart and have a true sense of that in order to know what you need to communicate out into the world for your own peace of mind. It’s an adventure of self-discovery, and if you’re not ready, to be honest, you won’t go very far. Start with wherever you're weakest, wherever you’re most afraid inside of yourself, wherever you’ve been most hurt, and tell that story."
Penny tells us she's currently working on living, so she can keep bringing new experiences to her art. We here at Re-Route can't wait to see where her honesty, bravery, faith, and many other travels will bring her. Here is Penny Moon.
Re-Route Magazine (RR Mag): Whether it's painting, drawing, photography, or any other form of art, we believe that art has the power to express what words cannot. What role does art play in your life, and how has it helped you to express yourself or communicate with others?
Penny Moon: Art is my therapy. It is the way I take what I feel or believe in my mind and put it into my heart, and share that heart with people. It’s the way I cope with loss and the way I embrace the future, and it bridges the gap between those two. It is not for everyone, and my poetry is often misunderstood, but aren’t we all a little bit misunderstood from time to time? It’s OK, I don’t mind being different as long as my difference is my true self.
What does your art say?
So I suppose the theme for both of my lanes of art, my poetic imagery writing, and my Bible characters are being unbreakable, being free, being open to expressed love, and not being afraid of the pain that such openness can bring. Another important theme that is found in my work is for those who are neurodivergent to not feel like they must quit or give up on life-to, not feel like they have to hold back something because they’ve been told that they aren’t good enough or capable. I want all those who struggle against the odds to fight hard and know that they can win.
Neurodiverse individuals may have unique sensory experiences that affect their appreciation of art. How has Dyslexia shaped your perspective on art and the world around you?
I would say it’s both held me back and pushed me forward. I’ve been afraid to share myself with the world because of a lifetime of experience of being rejected. I’ve been told I cannot, I will not, and that I’m no good too many times to have natural self-confidence. Even now, I’m terrified about how I’ll be received, but at the same time, I know there are a lot worse things that can happen in life than people not believing in you or liking you. Being a neurodiverse writer can be a humiliating journey. Many times I’ve had people comment on my post that they can’t read what I have written. Sometimes I delete it and fix it. Sometimes I leave it up because sometimes it’s about the message, and sometimes it’s about not being ashamed of my mistakes.
It's always interesting to learn about the artistic influences of different individuals. Who are yours, and how have they inspired you?
EE Cummings for his form of being romantic and Hemingway for his form of being romantic. Cummings is romantic in the classical sense of whimsy and love, and heartbreaks. Hemingway is romantic in a mostly forgotten form today of being undeterred, gritty, and adventurous. As for painters, John William Waterhouse has always been one of my favorites. His style is nothing like mine. He is obviously much better than me, but his depiction of fantastical scenes involving the same face and the same woman over and over again-it reminds me of the desperation of being in love with someone that you can never be with. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. What a way to make the person he loved immortal.
Which of your work you are most proud of?
Well, the Bible character work is my greatest pride. When I come across a character that speaks to me, I want to draw them to pay homage to their bravery and to make sure I never forget who they were. Like the needy widow, we know so little about her, not even her name. What we do know is she was a woman of extraordinary faith, and if we look at some archeological findings of the time, we know that women back then were married at extremely young ages, so it’s possible that she was a widow very early in life, her options limited, clearly, she had no children to provide for her, and yet she chose to give everything she had to contribute at the temple. We have such a small window into her brave and faithful soul, and there’s nothing recorded as to what came of her after that. I wanted to draw a picture of her, capture her beauty, her calmness, and from the human perspective, the bleakness of her situation.
We have many emerging artists and others who have yet to begin their career journey reading this. What advice would you give to them?
Never try and create based on what you think other people would want to see. You must know yourself and know your heart and have a true sense of that in order to know what you need to communicate out into the world for your own peace of mind. It’s an adventure of self-discovery, and if you’re not ready, to be honest, you won’t go very far. Start with wherever you're weakest, wherever you’re most afraid inside of yourself, wherever you’ve been most hurt, and tell that story. But don’t be too defeatist. The goal of the artist should be to inspire bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. Show them you’re stronger than the pain, and they can be too.
As a neurovariant artist and writer, what changes would you like to see in the industry?
I just want to say that I’m not an expert. I just have my personal experience that has led me to wish some things were different for those of us that are smart but can’t think the way the world says we should.
I was unequivocally failed by the education system. They told me I was unteachable and that I would never learn to read and write, so they couldn’t let me graduate, and at such a young age with not enough experience to know our society’s propaganda that education is the highest priority is not true, life is more than education! Well, my self-worth, fragile as it was, was shipwrecked. I viewed it as my personal responsibility not to fail, and it almost killed me.
If I had one wish, it would be that the world would change one function in the education of our children. Test them for spectrum disorders, but more than that, watch all our youth to see where their natural talent and skill are. We always ask kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" but then we laugh. I used to say I wanted to be a marine biologist. I still want that, but that is not an option for me because I failed so early in life. But my natural talents have always been in the arts, and I successfully thrived in art class because I believed I could.
What if we believed in our children?
If they say they want to be an astronaut, then feed that desire, believe in them, and let them be the ones to change that plan or dream to something else later if they want. What's the worst-case scenario? That we have a generation of artists who know about science or vice versa? Today, we squeeze our children to be exceptional in our predetermined lanes, and when they fail, there's no recourse.
They lose their will to dream and try again. Or they succeed and become child prodigies. Or classic midlife crisis cases. The interesting thing about that is we believe that because they're amazing as children, they will be even more amazing as adults. But that's not the case, as David Epstein said: (and I’m paraphrasing) "The trajectory for a child prodigy is most often a plateau, not an increase in ability because they have been mentally pigeonholed as they follow a non-agile education pattern."
And I guess that's all I'm saying, the same thing so many of us have been saying. Instead of teaching by bringing the young minds to the curriculum, what if the curriculum met the young minds?
Truer words. Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself and your work today?
My focus is encouraging people to be brave and share their voices.
I have to create-it's a burning fire in me, and if I do not create and release my fire, then I sit and burn. So my work is not always polished, but it is always honest. Here are some truths I hold and I base my life around. I believe you can’t choose your faith or lifestyle based on what’s popular or what you think will impress or please other people and think that you’ll fill the need of your soul for spirituality and meaning. You have to choose the thing that keeps you alive and burning long after everyone thinks your light should have gone out. If I woke tomorrow and I was the last artist, writer, or Jehovah's Witness, I would not change one thing about myself. That’s how I know I’m what and who I should be, and I live to be the fullest, truest me I can be, heart and mind open to life, possibilities, and love.
Editor's note: We are excited to feature the work of artist Penny Moon whose soulful pieces have been making waves. As a valued client of Alora Neurodivergent Art Dealers, Penny brings a unique perspective to her work that challenges traditional notions of art and creativity.