Any Authentic Work of Art Must Start an Argument Between the Artist and His Audience

Rebecca West? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: True artists are often troublemakers. They challenge their audience and cause argumentation. The prominent British author and literary critic Rebecca West said something similar to this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote investigator: Rebecca West’s 1957 book “The Court and the Castle” discussed themes present in the works of Shakespeare, Proust, and Kafka. In the first chapter she offered the following thesis. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

For any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience. The artist creates that work of art by analyzing an experience and synthesizing the results of his analysis into a form which excites an appetite for further experience.

Below are additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

Within the first chapter Rebecca West further contended that significant art works should be transformative of society:

A major work of art must change the aspect of reality, for it is an experience of the order which breaks up the present as we know it, transforming it into the past and giving us a new present, which we may like better or less than we liked the one just taken from us.

The 1977 compilation “The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975” edited by Elaine Partnow included the quotation: 2

. . . any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience.
The Court and the Castle,
Pt. I, Ch. 1 1957

In 1991 the quotation was included within the “Bloomsbury Dictionary of Quotations” edited by John Daintith et al. 3

In 2020 quotation expert Mardy Grothe published a short profile of Rebecca West in his weekly newsletter. He also included several statements ascribed to West including the target quotation: 4

“Any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience.”

In conclusion, Rebecca West deserves credit for the remark she printed in her 1957 book “The Court and the Castle”.


  1. 1957, The Court and the Castle: Some Treatments of a Recurrent Theme by Rebecca West, Part One: The Court of Kings, Chapter 1: Was Hamlet Without Will?, Quote Page 5, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977, The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975, Compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow, Entry: Rebecca West, Quote Page 238, Corwin Books, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1991, Bloomsbury Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by John Daintith et al, Entry: Dame Rebecca West, Quote Page 411, Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, London. (Verified with scans)
  4. Email Newsletter: Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week, Article title: This Week’s Puzzler, Article author: Mardy Grothe, Date of newsletter: March 8-14, 2020, Newsletter description: A Weekly Celebration of Great Quotes in History and the History Behind the Quotes. (Email received by Garson O’Toole on March 7, 2020)