The artistic director of the Virginia Museum Theater in Richmond announced his resignation this week after a 10-day argument with the museum's director over the questionof censoring a common four-letter word from their current world permiere poduction, "Childe Byron."

The play's planned run through this Saturday will be completed with the word intact. But director Keith Fowler will leave soon after its closing having been denied assurance that the board of trustees would not demand changes in other plays.

"Childe Byron," by Romulus Linney, is a quasiblographical account of the poet Lord Byron which Washington Post drama critic Richard L. Coe praised as having style life. In the scene that started the rift between Fowler and museum director R. Peter Mooz, Byron says in response to a suggestion that he wants to "kiss and tell," that the other character wants to" - an publish."

A scene in which two men kiss each other did not apparently cause dismay,as Fowler said he had not been ordered to delete it. Both the word and that scene were taken out for special matinee performances for youth.

Fowler said that in his eight years as director of the partially state-supported theater that differences over the language or content of plays have been worked out through amicable discussions with the assumption that the final decision was his. In this case, he said, he was ordered to delete the word, which he feels abrogated his artistic authority.

Mooz is on vacation and could not be reached, but museum public relations director Michael Hickey said the trustees feel that since they are appointed by the governor it would be impossible to allow one person - Fowler - "autonomy."

The theater raises 80 per cent of its $400,000 budget through thcket sales, an unusually high percentage in theater world. Fowler said the other 20 per cent comes from a varietyof grants and gifts, with the trustees being responsible for securing no more than eight per cent. "Childe Byron" was commissioned for the theater with a $7,500 Ford Foundation grant for new plays.

The question of how much authority a grant-giving or governing body should have over changing a work of art is not new. In 1972, for example, the National Park Service asked for deletions in a production at Ford's Theater, which it owns. Then-Interior Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton resolved the dispute by givingartistic authority to the theater's producers.