THE FIRST THING you notice about Karl Schrag's work at Jane Haslem Gallery is the vast leap the artist made in the 50 years covered by this show.

Prints of this German-born artist start with moralistic genre scenes -- "Madonna of the Subway," "To Hell With Hitler" -- that have more in common with 19th- century political cartoons than the work of the German expressionists. Clearly the illustrations served a purpose. But for Schrag's art, the eventual answers lay in the landscape.

Schrag came to America in 1938. It was not until he joined the forward-looking New York graphics studio Atelier 17, in 1945, that his art began to take off. He became part of a generation of innovative printers.

His goal isn't to make every print identical, but to go with what feels right in the process of printmaking. One etching, "Silence," a seascape, is deliberately printed out of register, and the result is the water vibrates with ripples. The etching "Dark Trees at Noon" is marked with rich halos: Schrag capitalized on the effects produced by a warm plate. The print is bold. Its calligraphic lines look like brushstrokes -- something borrowed from the Chinese masters, loosened up perhaps by the influence of Abstract Expressionists.

Schrag's attitude towards nature is almost mystical. In "Silence Above the Storm," the pinwheel shapes in the sky seem unreal. They are reminiscent of the crazy skies of Charles Burchfield, who shared Schrag's natural obsession.

The show includes still lifes and portraits, but they don't flicker with the exhuberance of Schrag's landscapes.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Project for the Arts held a workshop: A group called Black Artists/White Artists challenged the 50 participants with such questions as "Is anybody white?" and "What does it take to be black?"

The result was a three-wall "exploration" that is part graffiti and part collage, with a heavy dose of personal outpouring. The participants wrote or drew their responses, cleaning out their anger ("7/10/42, black military units {except Air Force} help invade North Africa"; "1942, murder of all my European relatives in concentration camps"). The overall result is diffuse, requires much reading and brings to mind '60s "happenings." It's purely accidental and never comes close to artistic collaboration.

This is part of a program of installations, lectures and performances called "Cut/Across," run by three interdisciplinary artist groups. The other two groups, Seoul House and the Latinegro Theater Collective, will use their installations as backdrops for a weekend of performances. Latinegro's performances will take place Thursday and February 26 and 27 at 8; Seoul House's on March 3, 4 and 5 at 8. For reservations call 347-4813.

"Life Outside the Law" is another cross-cultural awareness exhibit at WPA, this about the plight of undocumented workers from Mexico living in San Diego. In their photo/video installation, California artists Louis Hock and Elizabeth Sisco recreate a small apartment. Visitors may sit on a worn sofa, pull up an afghan, and view a rambling but ultimately involving four-hour documentary on the lives of the workers and their families.

Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Nancy Graves -- they all attended the Skowhegan School in Maine, a select summer school for career-brink artists. "Skowhegan: A Ten-Year Retrospective" at the Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, shows the work of a younger generation of artists, those who went there from 1975 to 1985. It's an eclectic mix: The Skowhegan School has risk-taking as its credo.

Bill Hill's "Repressed" administers a form of shock treatment. It's a mummified man, collapsed into a bundle in a corner like a forgotten street person on a grate. Don Rice's "Satan Sanitation" also clamors for attention. His theatrical wall-sized painting is the trash truck that took Manhattan. The runaway vehicle turns the World Trade Center into twin leaning towers and sends New Yorkers leaping from condos, crawling through sewers and endlessly circling Columbus Circle in their cars.

But there are quieter works here worthy of note -- among them Paloma Ceruda's enigmatic charcoal, a glowing semi- abstraction called "In My Father's Room," and Ellen Fischer's allusive painting, "The Saint." In rich tones and high verticals, she shows us an easy chair covered with discarded robes -- Renaissance drapery that says a modern transfiguration has taken place.

KARL SCHRAG -- "50 Years of Printmaking," at Jane Haslem Gallery through February 27 at 406 Seventh Street NW. Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 to 5:30.

CUT/ACROSS -- and "Life Outside the Law," at the Washington Project for the Arts through March 5 at 434 Seventh Street NW. Monday through Friday 10 to 5 (till 7 on Thursday), Saturday 11 to 5.

SKOWHEGAN: A TEN-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE -- at the Art Gallery, in the Art-Sociology Building on the College Park Campus, through March 8. Monday through Friday 10 to 4 (until 9 on Wednesday), weekends 1 to 5. 454-2763.