It Is the Function of Art To Renew Our Perception. What We Are Familiar With We Cease To See

Anaïs Nin? Orville Clark? Barbara Rowes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent literary figure and acclaimed modern diarist Anaïs Nin stated something like the following: When we become familiar with people and scenes we cease to see them; therefore, the true artist must shake up the commonplace. The resultant novelty will enable a renewal of perception. Would you please help me to find the precise passage in which she stated this idea?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in Anaïs Nin’s 1968 volume of analysis and criticism titled “The Novel of the Future”. Below is an image from the book followed by the text of the quotation: 1

It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1974 a collection of essays appeared titled “A Casebook on Anaïs Nin”. Philosopher Orville Clark penned a piece tracing the theme of eroticism and love in Nin’s work. Clark found the quotation memorable enough to reprint. The accompanying footnote correctly pointed to “The Novel of the Future”. Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 2

This selective concern with the “inner drama” enables the writer or artist to capture the essential feature of human experience; it allows him to penetrate beneath the encrusted surface of ordinary experience to the hidden and unfamiliar significance beneath it. In this way the artist can often make us see the familiar in a new light. As Anaïs Nin writes: “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

In 1979 “The Book of Quotes” compiled by Barbara Rowes included the three sentence quotation with an ascription to Anaïs Nin. The reference did not provide a citation. 3

In 1987 “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations” edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry credited the quotation to Anaïs Nin without a citation. 4

In 1990 “Writers on Writing” compiled by Jon Winokur included the quotation ascribed to Nin without a citation. 5

In conclusion, Anaïs Nin should receive credit for the words she wrote in “The Novel of the Future” in 1968. Her statement about the function of art was noticed by others, and it began to appear in quotation references by 1979.

Image Notes: Picture of items used by a magician from annca at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

(Great thanks to Chris Bacon whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Bacon’s inquiry included the text of the quotation.)


  1. 1968 Copyright (Third Printing 1976), The Novel of the Future by Anaïs Nin, Chapter 2: Abstraction, Quote Page 25, Collier Books: A Division of Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1974, A Casebook on Anaïs Nin, Edited by Robert Zaller, Part II, Chapter: Anaïs Nin: Studies in the New Erotology by Orville Clark, Quote Page 107, A Meridian Book: New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Chapter 32: Literary Set, Quote Page 304, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Writers and Writing, Quote Page 392, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1990, Writers on Writing, Compiled by Jon Winokur, Topic: Art and the Artist, Quote Page 29, Running Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans)