NEW YORK, JULY 11 -- Four performance artists denied grants by the National Endowment for the Arts today announced that they plan to appeal.

"I refuse to accept the overturning of my grant and those of the three other artists," Holly Hughes said at a news conference.

The NEA last month vetoed funds for Hughes and fellow artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller and John Fleck, despite a recommendation by an endowment peer panel that they be given money.

The endowment has come under attack from right-wing critics and some religious groups who contend public money should not be given to art that might be considered obscene. The work of all four artists, three of whom are openly homosexual, contains explicit sexual references and, in some cases, nudity.

"Our work is not, as the religious right charges, pornographic," Hughes said. "If any of these artists were doing pornographic work, we wouldn't bother applying to the NEA. We would be making plenty of money already."

The process of appealing the NEA decision has not yet been worked out, but the idea has received strong support from the panel that initially recommended the grants be given to the four artists.

"We believe that each of these individual artists, based on the criteria that was before us, is deserving of the fellowship as recommended," said Philip Arnoult, panel chairman and director of the Theater Project in Baltimore.

Finley cautioned against abolishing the NEA and relying solely on private business to underwrite the arts.

"Corporations use the NEA as a guideline in knowing who to give money to, by knowing who has gone through the distinguished process of the endowment's granting procedures," she said. "Most private funds and foundations do the same."

Richard Elovich, a performance artist whose grant was approved this year by the endowment, called on artists and organizations given government funds to use a part of that money "to support artists and arts organizations blacklisted by the NEA."

In Denver today, a group of artists attending the Composer-to-Composer International Telluride Institute conference, including Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Reynolds, denounced the NEA's rejection of the four, saying it was part of a disturbing trend toward censorship.

"We really believe these artists have a right to express themselves," said Laurie Anderson, a performance artist. "These artists, in my opinion, were sacrificed to the so-called greater good."