- Several exhibitions around town will take you on a journey through time: you'll visit the past and the pres-ent; you'll even catch glimpses of the future as new styles emerge.

- Step into Gallery I at the Utah Museum of Art and you'll immediately go back about 40 years to a period in American art that preceded the time of artistic innovation and experimentation. But what you are seeing are drawings and paintings by some of today's outstanding young Soviet artists from the I.E. Repin Institute in Leningrad.As you study the works, you'll begin to hear one message of the exhibition - that the Soviets believe the traditional approach to teaching fine arts skills is superior to the "anything goes" attitude of most artists and teachers in America.

Gregory Hedberg, director of the New York Academy of Art, tends to agree. He said, "We are beginning to recognize that knowledge and skills of the traditional Fine Arts - in anatomy, drawing, composition and the like - is in very short supply in our schools and in our society as a whole."

Granted, the Soviets' sequential approach of learning art has a lot going for it. During their six-year art course, students progress from the simple to the complex. In each new assignment, they tackle bigger and more difficult challenges.

For most of that time, students concentrate heavily on drawing the nude figure. They must learn the origin and insertion of every muscle of the body. And it shows in their highly accurate, photographic finished work.

But somewhere amid all this self-discipline and rules, a very precious ingredient is lost - creativity.

In fact, even the large-scale diploma projects executed by the students in their sixth year show little individuality.

That's why I cannot take seriously this statement made by Stuart Pivar, one of the founders of the New York Academy. "The Russians are ahead of us in space and art education."

A lot depends on what yardstick you use. Although the Soviets might be ahead of the Americans in learning basic techniques, they certainly are not ahead in terms of highly creative, unique approaches to art. Nor are they ahead in mastering mediums other than drawing and painting.

Each approach has its own strengths and shortcomings. I suppose the ideal learning experience would result when both approaches are combined.

Although representational, several large-scale works in the show have considerable appeal: Galina Perova's "Subway, 1986"; Daria Kollegova's "1942"; and Vasily Teviashov's "On the Road."

- When you search for the other two new exhibits at the museum, you will really go back in time when confronted with the exhibit of Greek Vases and The Natacha Rambova Collection of Egyptian Antiquities.

Hopefully, you can make your way through these fascinating exhibits to find "Westward to Promontory: The Photographs of Andrew J. Russell."

Russell was the only official photographer of the Civil War. He also lugged his camera equipment from Laramie to Promontory as he successfully recorded the Union Pacific Railroad's track laying and bridge building. He captured on film the monumental task of linking East with West. The culmination of the project is seen in his photograph dated May 10, 1869, "East and West Shaking Hands at Laying of Last Rail."

- Thirty-one artists were invited by the Sherry French Gallery in New York to submit their paintings for a show titled "Frivolity and Mortality: The Tradition of the Van-itas in Contemporary Painting," This traveling exhibit can also be viewed at the museum.

The word "vanitas" refers to paintings that convey the feeling of temporality. In other words, the juxtaposing of symbols of life and death.

In his still life "Oranges and Squash #1," Daniel Sprick includes a dead bird; in "Dying Flower" Ronnie Bogaev superimposes dead flowers and leaves on a colorful cloth; and in "Self Portrait with Rose," Janet Mona-fo effectively combines a variety of objects in her diamond-shaped pastel drawing.

All three of the above exhibits continue at the UMFA through April 16.

- At the Loge Gallery on the mezzanine of Pioneer Memorial Theatre, painter Jan Perkins introduces you to current and former artistic styles and directions in her exhibit "Conversing with Color and Line." Actually, these works are so varied it's hard to believe that they were drawn and painted by the same artist.

Grouped together are paintings of buildings, flowers, landscapes and portrait painting. Interspersed among them are sensitive drawings of people and animals.

One of the most striking works in the exhibit is her print "Summer in Park City." The original oil was commissioned by Lodestar Magazine of Park City for the 1988 summer issue.

Perkins applied the paint briskly in "Wading" and "Sax." She prefers understatement over detail, and these two works are proof of that.

Her show remains in the Loge Gallery, University of Utah campus, through April 1. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and before and after the evening performances of "Inherit the Wind."

At the Phillips Gallery, Richard Van Wagoner and Deborah Mitchell gives you a hint of future directions.

Although Van Wagoner includes a number of his freeway landscapes, he explores new mediums and subject matter. Check out watercolors "Backside of Timp" and "Newport Dock"; and his colored woodcut, "Stopping for the Red."

Mitchell says pastels are the medium of her choice. But, personally, I'm attracted to her gutsy, spontaneous monotypes. Don't take my word for it. Stop by and take a look at "Fishing Boat, Up for Repairs."

Van Wagoner's and Mitchell's works continue through March 24 at the Phillips Gallery, 444 E. Second South.