Student Star: Andy Mills

FSU student blends creative writing with studio art to amplify artistic expression

Name: Andy Mills
Major: Creative Writing; Studio Art
Graduation: Spring 2024
Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.
Colleges: College of Arts & Sciences, College of Fine Arts

“As a research-driven artist, attending a university like Florida State University has been vital to my growth.”

Fast Facts

  1. Favorite animal: Pink Katydids
  2. Sports: Completed four years of varsity weightlifting in high school
  3. Homage: Named their cat Agnes after St. Agnes of Rome
  4. Arts: Spends a third of their time in their studio at Carnaghi Arts Building

With passion for written and visual mediums, Andy Mills felt it was essential to attend a university that supported its students’ artistic vision. That is precisely what they found at Florida State University.

“I chose to attend FSU because of the university’s commitment to arts research,” Mills said. “As a double major in creative writing and studio art, it was important to me to attend a university that supported both of my chosen disciplines.”

Mills is an interdisciplinary artist whose work crosses the boundaries between visual art and writing through various methods including collages, drawing, machine and hand embroideries, screen printing and more.

“As an artist and writer, I try to identify the language of the powerful and subvert it,” Mills said. “I want people to question ‘objective’ language and I want to offer an alternative: language that is resistant to easy meaning or clear understanding.

With studio space at the Carnaghi Arts Building, part of the College of Fine Arts, Mills spends time working on techniques, projects and ideas. Their work ranges from paintings and drawings to sculptures, fiber art, video and printmaking, often incorporating the written word.

Mills’ latest project, “Something Still Living,” is a mixed media work that merges fabric and poetry.

“The studio space has given me the opportunity to create large-scale work, professional documentation and exhibit in student galleries,” Mills said. “It’s a center for both my visual art and English research.”

Inspired by their grandparents who were also artists, Mills’ passion began early in childhood. During their time at FSU, Mills has taken a more avant-garde approach to art.

“There is a focus on interpretation and abstraction in art that is very appealing to me,” Mills said, “I don’t like to claim things that I’m not sure of, or to make arguments I don’t believe in entirely. Art is always muddy, always interpretative —there’s always some give.”

Mills credits their peers and professors as inspiration for their artistic vision. In The English Department, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, Professor Diane Roberts and doctoral candidate Landis Grenville pushed Mills as a writer and thinker and connected them to poetry.

In the Department of Art, Mills commends Professor Kevin Curry who pushed them to work intuitively, toward the sublime and against art that is clearly defined or easily understandable. Tenee’ Hart introduced them to many new methods of creating and expressing themselves.

“I have been so incredibly lucky to find many wonderful and influential instructors here at FSU,” Mills said.

Carrie Ann Baade, a professor in the Department of Art, encouraged Mills to apply for an IDEA Grant to support their Honors in the Major thesis for Creative Writing, which they received.

“Among the thousands of students who received an IDEA Grant, Andy stands out with exceptional distinction,” Baade said. “Their work captivates attention and holds an undeniable allure that demands recognition. As an award-winning artist recently shown in museums, Andy’s art is informed by their love of text, which is sewn and worn in their fashion and installation-based creations.”

The project, “Good: Five Short Stories,” will be a collection of short fiction stories about a 1970’s era groupie and her toxic relationships with a rock ‘n’ roll star. The stories culminate in a grander novel, while also working as standalone pieces. Mills is currently seeking publication.

“Funding is incredibly important to artistic growth,” Mills said. “The scholarships and awards I have received while at FSU have allowed me to buy the equipment and supplies that have expanded my craft. Florida State has given me ample support.”

Mills’ artwork has also been displayed beyond the classroom. Their artwork was featured at the City Hall Art Gallery and LeMoyne Arts in Tallahassee, as well as in the Greenville Museum of Art in North Carolina and the Dorothy Uber Bryan Gallery at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Mills’ writing has been published in the Exposition Review, an independent multi-genre literary journal, where it was nominated for a Pushcart prize.

How important is it to attend a university that values the arts?

Art offers a unique way to interact with the world. Art focuses on perception, creation and elaboration on the observable world. For me, this extends into history, literature and biology. Within the university setting, art allows students to think outside of traditional academic inquiry whilst still utilizing the resources, facilities and philosophies of an R1 academic institution. As an artist who is very research driven, attending a university like FSU has been vital to my growth.

How will the IDEA grant further allow you to learn about your interests and express your art?

The IDEA Grant has allowed me to cultivate my research tools and sharpen my writing skills. It has given me the opportunity to realize my proposed short story collection, and the security of the grant allowed me to play with artistic experimentation and risk, altering existing forms and creating new ones entirely. Currently, I am pursuing publication for the short stories in the collection.

How are you able to blend both studio art and creative writing into your own unique craft?

I think about my practice as a resistance to clarity. I see art as an opportunity to not make sense. Oftentimes, my visual art engages directly with text. In my work, narratives are disrupted, sentences are abstracted and words are consumed. This happens literally as text is pricked and printed into being, collaged, manipulated, torn and twisted. My practice is concerned with the ultimate reconfiguration of meaning. We are constantly surrounded by language that is purportedly objective, logical and unemotional. Our lives are determined by this kind of language. Think about the way laws are written – supposedly direct and dispassionate. But in reality, legal language is highly emotional and intensely subjective. Another example is the language on street signs. Here, the language has to be clear and discernible, otherwise daily life would not be livable. And yet, even this language is biased. Roads get named and renamed after political figures – street signs are political, and they say a lot about who is in power.

What advice would you give to incoming art students?

Experiment. Try an entirely new medium, utilize your access to the labs, use your studio, apply for awards, do an honors project, submit your work to professional shows and publications, meet other artists, foster productive relationships with your mentors, go to galleries and museums and read art publications. Ask how they would describe their artwork to a general audience. If they are a writer and visual artist, ask them for a detailed description of what they produce.