Like many artists of my age, I have been influenced and inspired by the work and writing of Agnes Martin, but one particular contention of hers sticks in my craw.

In Writings (1992) Agnes Martin writes “I suggest to artists that you take every opportunity of being alone, that you give up having pets and unnecessary companions.” She continues to suggest “that people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.”

Can you imagine what she would think of Facebook? I consider myself a serious worker in the art field, and I agree that the focus necessary for deep, serious creative work is most easily “dialed in” when alone. And solitude (not to mention deep, serious thought) does appear to be in short supply in American culture. I spend hours and hours alone in my studio, but I cannot conclude that my best work is begun or finished there. I do have a dog and many children, and I consider it one of the gifts of my years in a classroom that all sorts of people (if not companions) have become necessary parts of my life. I find that solitude finds its strength and purpose in contrast and coexistence with the time spent face-to-face with my community.

I am inordinately pleased when someone responds to my work with, “it just begs to be touched.” Our involvement with electronic devices seems to be increasing exponentially. As the the pixilated visual world explodes, our tactile experience correspondingly becomes more limited. In the face of this, when someone holds one of my pieces and begins to “see it” with their fingers, I feel victorious.

Simon van der Ven, Artist


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Simon van der Ven is a 55-year-old artist living in rural Maine. He is married to author/minister Kate Braestrup. Between them, they have six grown children. The majority of Simon’s current studio production involves clay, but his artistic background includes a wide range of materials and approaches. He has made art all his life. With an undergraduate degree in printmaking, a graduate degree concentration in ceramics and drawing, a year’s advanced study of painting and critical theory at the Marchutz School in France, plus experience working as an educator, house builder, goldsmith, sailor, and chef, finding the unity within what may appear disparate has been one of the primary tasks in a life spent making art.