It has been an unofficial tradition that a good portion of the people who work at the Phillips Collection are artists themselves. Many, such as William Calfee, Robert Gates and Lowell Nesbitt, have achieved recognition; and the museum has encouraged them by organizing occasional special exhibitions-the latest of recent works by Wil Brunner, Cynthis Griffith and William Ryan.

For an artist, working at the Phillips is an education in itself. Without any formal training, William Ryan believes he learned how to paint landscapes - first realistic, then evolving to abstract - by immersing himself in the art that surrounded him every day, seeing how people used paint and studying the subtleties and effectiveness of different techniques.

Cynthia Griffith says the experience made her more inward and brought her out of her "academic frame of mind." Her watercolors, painted in 1975, were inspired by her desk duty at the museum's older entrance. Seeing visitors coming indoors, looking at two Degas paintings hanging across from her day after day, and drawing inspiration from shows that had special meaning for her resulted in her "Interior Views of the Phillips Collection."

Wil Brunner found working at the museum both instructive and intimidating. Going there as a graduated student in fine arts, he found being surrounded by the paintings an intensive course in how to look at and structure a canvas.

"The proximity you have to the art by helping handle and install shows here is different from looking at paintings in an exhibit somewhere else," he says.

But don't ask any of the three what their works mean. Brunner insists that paintings have no more message than anything else, and what underlying meaning there is can't be communicated verbally. "You can't say what can only be seen."

RECENT WORK BY WASHINGTON ARTISTS - Through January 17 at the Phillips Collection. CAPTION: Picture, "WATERCOLOR," ACRYLIC AND OIL ON CANVAS BY WIL BRUNNER AT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION.