He was born as Nicholas Brice Marden Jr. in Bronxville, New York and grew up in nearby Briarcliff Manor. He attended Florida Southern College from 1957 to 1958 before receiving his B.F.A. from the Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1961. There after, Marden earned his M.F.A. from the Yale School of Art in 1963, where he studied with Esteban Vicente, Alex Katz, Jon Schueler, Jack Tworkov, Reginald Pollack, Philip Pearlstein, and Gabor Peterdi. Among his fellow students were the future artists Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Janet Fish, Vija Celmins, Nancy Graves, Gary Hudson, and Sylvia and Robert Mangold. As he studied art, Marden was also immersed in the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based American folk music revival scene. His first wife, Pauline Baez, whom he married in 1960, is Joan Baez's sister. He met Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and lived for a while at Joan Baez's house in Carmel, California.