Although I am a great fan of Jonathan Yardley's columns and book reviews, I think he is painting himself into an artistic corner with a few of his most recent commentaries.

I refer particularly to his discussion of the support of "political attitudes" in art through the National Endowment for the Arts {"Art and the Paid-for Political Message," Style, July 16}, and more specially his statement that "the passing interests of politics make for fine propaganda and bad art." He indicated that he included sexuality, racism, nontraditional views of religion and contemporary greed under the rubric of politics.

I would suggest that a close reading of the works of Charles Dickens as well as such classics as William Faulkner's "Light in August," Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," to choose a few examples from a host of possibilities, would suggest that concern about greed, racism, religion and sexuality has driven great writers to produce great art. It would be hard to argue that political dogmatism produces great literature, but it seems pointless and well-nigh impossible to try to separate literature from politics.

I find Mr. Yardley's comments particularly puzzling, because in the past he has excoriated the arid nature of much contemporary fiction, which he seems to feel is born out of an academic interest in form and a failure to come to grips with the real world. Thus the contemporary novelist seems to be condemned, under Mr. Yardley's philosophy, to dealing with issues other than greed, racism, religion and sexuality but is not permitted to elevate form over substance -- a neat trick, indeed.

Perhaps in the future, Mr. Yardley can tell us what kind of contemporary or, for that matter, classical, fiction meets these conditions. I am bewildered. THOMAS L. VAN DER VOORT Alexandria

Thank heavens for the eminent good sense of Jonathan Yardley for letting the hot air out of the grandiloquent debate about public funding (by the National Endowment for the Arts) of certain artists.

Too bad that after reducing that debate to its essentials, he didn't make the obvious recommendation that political parties set aside a small percentage of their treasuries as a fund for artists bent on making political statements. Those artists turned down for grants by the NEA could then apply to the party of their choice for funding and get out of the taxpayers' pockets.

JOHN BURKE Arlington

Jonathan Yardley labeled Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) "antediluvian" for his stand on the National Endowment for the Arts. Then Mr. Yardley proved himself to be pre-antediluvian by calling upon Congress to deny funding to any art involving "expression of political attitudes."

I don't know the world in which Mr. Yardley lives, but it must be remote. Politics is ubiquitous.

Congressional reactionaries are seeking to abolish the NEA because a handful out of 85,000 grants contained "obscene" material. Mr. Yardley said the members of Congress are "exploiting the endowment's difficulties for their own cynical ends." Yet he seems to want to ban the funding of anything "political," a much more effective way to destroy the NEA. Who's cynical? HERBERT B. BAIN Washington