Laura Milkins is a multimedia, interactive performance artist, living in Tucson and teaching Art and Visual Culture at Pima Community College since 2012. She received an MFA in painting from University of Arizona in 2008. She works in a variety of mediums but is best known for her performance work.
In 2009, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico City. For this public performance, “Walking Stories: Mexico”, Milkins walked across Mexico City in the company of strangers, posting the stories they shared each night on a blog.
Recent work includes “The Depression Session”, a radio show devoted to de-stigmatizing depression, “The Kindness Project”, spending a year contemplating kindness, and “Walking Home: stories from the desert to the Great Lakes”, in which Milkins walked 2,007 miles from Tucson to Michigan wearing a live webcam.
Since 1993, Laura has been organizing art shows, performances and festivals, and has received grants, awards and international recognition for her work. Her performances focus on community and social interactions, and the role that technology plays in both.
How Did You Know You Needed to Come on a Retreat?
In the spring of 2016, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and unable to find time for myself or my artwork. My needs were on the back burner, with crusty remnants clinging to the pot.
I produce and host a weekly radio show/podcast, The Depression Session, and had started teaching full time at Pima Community College. Between teaching and producing the show, I was working up to 80 hours a week and felt stretched thin. I had an idea for a new series of paintings, but couldn’t imagine how I was going to find the time or energy to start. In that haze of exhaustion and stress, I thought, ‘France, I need to go to an artist retreat in France.’
What Is the Difference Between La Muse and an Art Course to You?
An art course is great if you are a beginner needing direction, or an experienced artist ready to take your work in a new direction by learning techniques and methods. Going on retreat to La Muse is about finding the time, space and solitude necessary for producing a serious body of work. You can hone your craft, get inspired, find your spiritual center and be infused with fresh ideas from the amazing people who retreat at La Muse. You come away from an art course with some new skills and friends. You come away from La Muse with a transformed sense of self and purpose, having connected to a community of artists/writers who understand what this means to you.
Can You Give Us One Word to Describe Your Retreat?
What’s Been Your Eureka/Transformative Muse Moment?
Overhead the swallows swirled in their nightly dance as we ate together out on the stone patio, gathered around the glass topped table. The sky slowly faded to a pale blue and creamy yellow that is particular to Southern France. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I remember the feeling of closeness and vulnerability. Without overthinking it, I said, ‘I have been so poor for so long, just getting by and struggling to pay the bills. This year, I made more than I ever have in my life. This is the first time I’ve really,’ I started to cry, then took a shaky breath and continued, ‘done something just for me… You know, just for me.’ At La Muse, I realized that it is essential to make time and space for my needs and artistic vision. That what I want to accomplish is just around the corner, but I need to give it space to grow and connect to creative people who support me.
What was the one thing you didn’t pack that you wish you had?
How Do You Know You Are an Artist?
Everyone is an artist. It’s about finding what type of artist you are, and then making space and time for this artist to emerge. Give your artist the resources they need to thrive.
What is Creativity to You? What is Your Creative Process?
Creativity is authenticity expressed. The creative process is allowing for this expression, giving it love and a home to exist in. My process distilled:
Play – have as much free time and carefree fun as possible, go on walks, ride bicycles, talk to friends, swim, soak in a hot tub, sing out loud, dance like a mad thing, eat, drink and be merry.
Grow Ideas – give credence to all ideas, don’t judge, talk out loud to whoever will listen, let the ideas rattle around and feel them out, write them down, imagine them being in the world.
Intuit – the right idea will start to take root and push out the others, let the ideas shake out until one is impossible to ignore and becomes obsession. I never know which idea will take hold, but I always trust it.
Build the Project – lots and lots of planning, work, writing, making, collaborating, visualizing expressing, putting the pieces together, strategizing.
Judge – question the project, look for flaws, shore up problems, ask for productive criticism from people you trust, apply what resonates, reject everything else.
Crystalize – at a certain point the project is what it was meant to be, that is when the work becomes art for me, it becomes expressed emotion, love, meaning, life. I just let it breathe and be.
Finish – the work comes to a close, the project completes itself and is done. I let it be done, and move on.
What is Inspiration or Inspirational to You? How Do You Live an Inspired Life?
Inspiration is allowing yourself to connect to the world around you and express your authentic reaction to it. I personally am inspired by social interactions, community, plants and animals. My teaching and radio show are inspired and inspiring, but I am often too “busy”, “stressed” and “anxious” to live a truly inspired life. This year, I plan to create a way to make more time and space in my here and now, to let my gracious life at La Muse spill over into my life at home in the desert.
What Advice Would You Give To a Young Artist?
Seek out the people, places and things that inspire and inform you and hold them close. Make sure to check in with yourself often to make sure your life authentically fits you and your dreams. When things feel off, see if you can find new people, places and things to inspire and inform you. Go on a retreat! Try something new! Take a chance!
You can work at a dumb, unsatisfying job and still live a beautiful, inspired and inspiring life. Don’t wait for things to be perfect, instead, appreciate what’s in front of you and keep making art. Let your artwork lead you and keep loving yourself in the process.