Artists from A to Z -- literally -- are aiming at the art-for-Christmas trade. With sales off and the economy weak, prices for prints and photographs have leveled and, on occasion, dropped. Smart collectors would do well to look around in what has become a buyer's market.

Jane Haslem has divided her alphabetical panorama of 20th-century American artist-printmakers between her two galleries: Josef Albers through Alex Katz at 2121 P St. NW, and Mauricio Lasansky through Richard Ziemann at 406 Seventh St. NW. In between -- and actually installed alphabetically -- are strong examples by Will Barnet, Thomas Hart Benton (including his powerful lithograph "Strike"), Mary Cassatt, Fritz Eichenberg, Misch Kohn, Jack Levine, John Marin, Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg and Grant Wood -- some 200 prints by 120 artists. As usual, the bargains will be found among the lesser-knowns.

The price range is broad: from $75 for a Benton-like wood-engraving titled "Corral" by the much-honored illustrator Lynd Ward (now 77 and living quietly in Reston), to $3,500 for an insignificant doodle by Helen Frankenthaler--the sort of vacuous, overpriced junk that sent the big-name print market into a well-deserved tailspin in the late '70s. The long absence of the better prints from gallery walls, however, makes their return most refreshing.

Haslem is offering an added holiday attraction: 100 area artists have responded to her request for salable handmade Christmas tree decorations, with proceeds to go to CARE. The tree-decorating party for participating artists will take place today from 3 to 5, after which all baubles -- some highly imaginative -- will go on sale.

The print shows will continue through December. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6 on P Street, and Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 4 on Seventh Street. Photographs at Ewing Gallery

A visit to Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 3243 P St. NW, is always bound to change the mind of anyone unconvinced that photography can be art. Several good artists who use a camera in lieu of a brush underscore the point in three concurrent shows.

Former sculptor Mary Branley took her first photographs in the '70s, began making art straightaway, and won a purchase prize at the Corcoran to prove it. Her first efforts to deal with color led to the eye-popping series of dye-transfer prints now on view -- straight images taken on the boardwalks in Ocean City and Rehoboth, but shown in indecipherable segments that are most mysterious and provocative. Branley is, in a word, superb.

Frank Lavelle, who teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, is the wit in the group, but with a surrealistic twist. In a series titled "Family Album Revisited," he has altered old family photographs by covering the faces with incongruous objects--half an apple, a crustacean shell -- and then rephotographing, enlarging and printing the new images in color gum bichromate. In the process, he has also transformed his relatives into bird- and beast-like creatures that take on an intriguing new life of their own.

"Contrived Objects -- A Survey of the Still-Life in Photography" is the title of the third Ewing offering, and it is a group exhibition including several good camera artists. Among the highlights are William Eggleston's wonderful "Coke Glass" and John Gruen's elegant still lifes -- composed from old kitchen implements -- which have the timeless grandeur of William Bailey's paintings.

All three shows -- plus dozens of vintage prints ($30 and up) and the beautiful new book on Alfred Stieglitz -- will be on display through December. Hours are 11 to 6, Tuesdays through Saturdays. More for the Holidays

Other events of special interest for Christmas art-shoppers include the following:

Un'Ichi Hiratsuka, 87, who helped revive the art of woodblock printing in postwar Japan and has been declared a "living national treasure" there, will show his black-and-white prints at a private sale this weekend at 10202 Fleming Ave., Bethesda (near White Flint). Hiratsuka has lived in the area for several years with his daughter, artist Keiko Hiratsuka Moore, whose woodblock prints of children, cats and flowers will also be for sale.

For the first time, both artists' prices, ranging from $50 to $20,000, have been discounted by 30 percent. Included with Hiratsukas's masterful landscapes and views of Tokyo, Kyoto and Washington will be a new series of 100 small nudes, each accompanied by a poem written by the artist. Hours today are 10 to 5, tomorrow, noon to 5. Call 530-3412 for further information.

Friar Jerry Hovanec will hold a studio sale of his handblown glass vases, bowls, tumblers, yard-long ale glasses and hollow whiskey canes at Capuchin Glass, Washington's only glass-blowing studio, today and tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m. at St. Francis Friary, 4121 Harewood Rd. NE, (two blocks from Catholic University). Hovanec is also showing concurrently at Plum Gallery in Kensington.

Private dealer H.H. Leonards made the front page of The Wall Street Journal this week with the latest of her oddball schemes for selling art. Each day this month, she is offering a percentage discount equal to the number of shopping days until Christmas. The event will climax in a Procrastinator's Sale with discounts of up to 30 percent, starting Christmas Eve at 11 p.m. and lasting until 4 a.m. Christmas Day. Her studio will be open 8 to 8 Mondays through Fridays, weekends 10 to 10, until then. The address is 2020 O St. NW.