It didn't take long yesterday for the new "Noon at the National" lecture series at the National Theatre to get around to that perrenial question: Can you judge art?

To discuss this and other issues was a panel of four seated on the stage of the National -- the mirrored set of "Chorus Line" behind them, an audience of 100 in front of them. The panelists were Sean Donlon, Irish ambassador to the U.S., Sen. Claiborne Pell (D.-R.I.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Education , Arts and Humanities, columinist George Will and Earl Whitcraft of Mobil Oil. The moderator was Martin Agronsky.

"You cannot subsidize arts unless you define them," said Will.

"The question is who defines them," said Agronsky.

Donlon talked about how the Irish government does not tax the income of artists in Ireland who paint, sculpt, compose or write. "The role of the government is that of impratial patron of the arts," said Donlon. "The benefit of the doubt is given to the artist."

Will asked Donlon how the Irish government avoided making a value judgment in such subsidies. "We take our chances," Donlon replied.

Maurice Tobin, president of the board of the New National Theatre corporation, said he was "enormously" pleased with the first in the National's planned series of free noon lectures, once a month.

To kick off the series, the National served wine and cheese in the lobby, and the federal Jazz Commission played jazz on the sidewalk outside.

A variety of art patrons attended -- including COMSAT's community relations manager Jacqueline Wakeling, National Endowment for the Arts official Phil Kadis, and Cultural Alliance executive director Peter Jablow.