If you'd rather be by the sea -- and who wouldn't -- the summer "Beach Show" at Kathleen Ewing Gallery is a cooling alternative.

It will also sharpen the critical eye.

Organized by and featuring Don Fear, a recent Corcoran graduate, the show begins with several of his own black-and-white photographs taken along America's northeast shores. It continues with seaside images by a dozen other area artists of vastly different sensibilities. All are worth seeing.

Fear challenges himself by choosing to deal with amateur photography at the beach: a voluptuous young woman posing for a young man's camera; a woman prodding her grandchild to look into the lens. On the latter, Fear fails to rise to the challenge, producing what is, in effect, merely a snapshot.

But elsewhere he succeeds admirably, as in the touching pair of images showing an elderly man attempting to straighten his wife's collar in preparation for being photographed. Best of all is a family group digging shells in the sand, frozen in movement as if they were playing a game of "Statues." The presence of the camera is implicit in the face of the child at center, who stares straight at it.

Several of the most expressive works in the rest of the show are in color. Carol Siegel transforms a row of European beach chairs into what appear to be ominous, shrouded figures; Angie Seckinger gives the fin of a surfboard the look of an attacking shark.

Making the most of color is Jim Sherwood, with impressionistic compositions of slim young beauties in bright bikinis and patterned beach towels--an updated play on the watercolors of Maurice Prendergast. Richard Rodriguez, in his "Rehoboth" series, has produced an unforgettably mood-laden view of a seaside swimming pool at dusk, using a long exposure to puddle together the changing colors of the sky, just as a watercolorist might do.

Upstairs at Ewing is a fine sampling of work by several gallery photographers, including an impressive new series of tinted photographs by Allen Appel (who will show soon in New York) and examples by the intriguing Robert Fichter, who makes giant photographs of rabbits with wings and other odd accouterments. Fichter will be featured next season when Ewing reopens in a location yet to be announced. This show continues at 3243 P St. NW, where vintage photographs are being sold at bargain prices through July 30. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6. Etchings for Summertime

Early 20th-century American printmakers had their share of summer fun, or so it would seem from evidence proffered in a delightful show of "American Genre Prints," some of them rarely seen, at the Bethesda Art Gallery.

Better known for his New York cityscapes, Martin Lewis spent at least one sunny afternoon in 1928 watching happy kids running along the beach with drippy ice cream cones in their hands. His charming drypoint of the scene is a highlight of this show.

Coney Island was also a favorite haunt, and its shooting gallery, carousel and beaches appear in several works by Glenn Coleman, Angelo Pinto, Harry Shokler and Mabel Dwight, who zoomed in on the more amusing aspects, filling her 1928 lithograph with teeming life. George Biddle preferred the tranquility of "Folly Beach" in Massachusetts, which is reflected in a spare etching that fairly radiates summer light.

Some took their pleasures in the sweltering city streets or--like illustrator Robert Riggs--at the Max Baer-Primo Carnera fight, immortalized in one of several boxing lithographs. Others, like Washington artist Prentiss Taylor, based their summer reveries in the Virginia countryside.

But vacation sites aside, it is Reginald Marsh's 1932 etching "Iron Steamship Company" that steals this show--a view of a couple touring New York harbor in what may be one of the best and least known etchings this Ashcan School artist ever made. Through July 23 at 7950 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5.