I am astonished and dismayed that The Post's book critic Jonathan Yardley does not recognize political expression as a legitimate and historically important ingredient of art. His column "Art and the Paid-For Political Message" {Style, July 16} derides the view of artists such as Karen Finley who feel that the political content of their work should not disqualify them from the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. Although Mr. Yardley appears particularly offended by what he perceives as an "interconnection of art and left-wing politics," he seems opposed to all art with a message, asserting that "the history of art tells us that the passing interests of politics make for fine propaganda and bad art."

In my field, the visual arts, this will be surprising news to the lovers of Goya, Daumier and Picasso and all the other great painters who have been inspired by political outrage to create some of their finest and most powerful work. Surely, Mr. Yardley, of all people, can think of literary parallels. Art is expression, and there is no sane way to sanitize it so that the expression of messy feelings, such as horror or anger at social injustice, is automatically excised. The National Endowment for the Arts has for years found other, more intelligent ways of winnowing out unworthy grant applications. LAUGHLIN PHILLIPS Director, The Phillips Collection Washington