The Brooklyn Museum's controversial exhibit, "Sensation," is producing the reaction defined in its title [news story, Oct. 3].

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines sensation as "a mental process (as seeing, hearing, smelling) due to immediate bodily stimulation often as distinguished from awareness of the process."

Our culture -- advertising, popular music, cinema, fiction, etc. -- is the embodiment of sensation. A culture's time and place are always reflected in the art it produces.

Imagine Michelangelo producing a dung-clad "Virgin Mary." Imagine Chris Ofili, creator of the controversial "Virgin Mary," producing a "Pieta." Who would go see it now with a 16th-century person's awe and wonder?

A more appropriate response than outrage to this exhibit is to ask: Why are we producing sensations? How much of art should be sensation? How much should provoke thinking?

CAROL WALLWORK

Centreville

In "Mayor of All the Museums" [op-ed, Sept. 30], Richard Cohen implies that government must "bite its tongue" when it comes to "art." Does Mr. Cohen realize the irony of his choice of words in an article where he invokes the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech?

However, the issue is not the First Amendment (no one stopped the artist from creating); it is the use of taxpayer money. Mr. Cohen tries to skate past this point by stating that once government "makes a commitment, it must rely on the good judgment of its recipients not to do something reckless with the money." Where is it written that the government cannot question the spending of government funds? If government commits to the building of a military aircraft and the builder charges the taxpayers $500 for a toilet seat, government must "bite its tongue"?

I also find Mr. Cohen's "the good judgment of its recipients" intriguing, because many people believe good judgment was lacking in the selection of the "Sensation" exhibit. In addition to the Holy Virgin made from pornographic photographs and elephant dung, it includes a horse's head complete with live flies and a dissected pig. If this is not "something reckless," maybe Mr. Cohen can tell us what is.

THOMAS GUISTO

Gaithersburg