Teen Artist Overcomes Vision-Related Challenges Through Art, Family and Faith

Lauren with one of her displays at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 Lauren Mills has been drawing since she could pick up a crayon at 10 months of age. She began painting when she was 11, and creates works of art inspired by her favorite artists, Salvador Dali and Picasso. The 14-year-old 10th-grader from Ypsilanti, Michigan, who is legally blind, has been featured in news media around the world. Here, in her own words, she describes her journey.

 Tell us about your experiences living with vision disorders.

I was diagnosed with nystagmus and other vision disorders when I was a baby. When I was 2 years old, I had surgery to loosen my eye muscles and help stabilize my eyes. But my eyes continued to shift from left to right, which made it very difficult for me to adjust and adapt to my physical and social environment. As a young girl, other kids teased and physically bullied me. Even adults did not appreciate my visual disability. Many people would become frustrated with me because I needed to be very close to them, or to inanimate objects, in order for my eyes to settle down enough to focus. People did not understand me, and I didn't understand them and their cruel, hurtful responses to me. The frustration and harsh words that I experienced significantly pierced my young soul. I can’t imagine where I would be today if it were not for God, the unconditional love and guidance of my mother and family, and the comfort of a pen and a piece of paper. Who would have guessed that pens, pencils, paper, canvasses, paint and paint brushes would save my life?

Lauren working on one of her paintings.

What advice do you have for other kids who are being bullied because of their disabilities?

First, I would tell them not to be ashamed. Your disabilities do not define you. Second, I would say to love yourself for who you are and live your life. Once I did those things, I was able to stop caring about the stupid things people said to me. I didn’t let them tear me apart.

What are your favorite subjects and hobbies?

English! I love to read and write, and I love discovering new authors. My favorites are Ralph Waldo Emerson and Maya Angelou. I also like to write poetry, and I’m on the track team. And, I recently started playing the saxophone, because I love jazz. I want to contribute to the things I enjoy – like music and poetry.

But art is your passion?

It is. While other children were watching television shows, I was absolutely captivated with drawing, and eventually with painting. I didn’t have any formal art training until last summer, when I was selected to study at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. It was an amazing experience! I love doing portraits, because faces intrigue me. I have been blessed with a gift of sight that occurs through the lens of my mind and my dreams. It allows me to transfer what is identified through minimal vision and vivid imagination to the canvas or page. After I go to college, I want to become a full-time artist. I know my art brings joy to people, and that makes me happy.

Lauren selling her artwork at a local fair through her business, Artologi.

Tell us about your company.

In 2011, I formed my own art company, Artologi, and started my lifelong journey of “art-trepreneurship.” I wanted the name to reflect the science of art and imagination. So that’s how I came up with the suffix “ology;” but I used an “i” at the end because I thought it was catchier. By 2013, I started selling my original artwork at local art festivals, and participated in live painting performances with professional artists.

At age 12, Lauren participated in Senator John Dingell's Art Competition for Southeastern Michigan’s top high school artists.

What are you most proud of?

I am thankful for so much! I was fortunate enough to have my artwork exhibited in museums and art galleries. I was honored to be named Youth of the Year by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and I also received the Emerging Artist of the Year Award at a Teen Arts Festival in Michigan. And, I’m proud of the fact that my story is being used as a teaching resource by several organizations to dispel bullying and help people appreciate the beauty of being different and loving one’s self. In the past few years, I have learned that God blesses those who many people have forgotten. And for that, I am truly happy. I am grateful to have the greatest honor I believe one can have, and that is to spread love and dispel hate through my actions, my words and my art.

To see more of Lauren's artwork visit artologi.org or facebook.com/artologi