The students were happily discussing fabrics, design and symbolism instead of debating theological concepts.

They sat around a large work table with art materials piled in the center. Slides of religious art flashed on a screen before them.

"Ah-h . . . ." The murmur swept the room as a slide of a tapestry in blues and fiery red, based on the story of Genesis, appeared.

The classroom was filled with paintings in bright watercolors and acrylics; on one wall were sketches in charcoal. Panels for a wall hanging were spread over a work table on one side of the room. A giant wire-and-fiber structure stood from floor to ceiling nearby.

The room vibrated with color and motion. This might not have seemed unusual in an art class elsewhere. But these were seminarians. Their course, held in the art studio of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, is part of an art program considered rare for a seminary.

To Catherine Kapikian, the instructor and the seminary's artist-in-residence, art and religion have a natural affinity. Both "speak symbolically," she said. "We're created in the image of God, we are a reflection of God. The capacity to create is a part of our endowment."

The program, started by Kapikian three years ago at this Methodist seminary, includes an art appreciation course related to religious art and a practical application course that uses what Kapikian calls the "creative process."

Students, who come from other Protestant and Roman Catholic seminaries in the Washington area as well as from Wesley, are given the option of producing creative art projects instead of writing papers.

Some seminary students also contract for art instruction under Kapikian, a Rockville artist and 1979 Wesley graduate. A few students have been apprenticed to work with her on commissions from churches and institutions.

Meanwhile, passersby can stop in to watch the seminary's two artists-in-residence at work in the studio. Besides Kapikian, there is Edmund Tettah, the seminary's new visiting artist-in-residence from Ghana.

Art in Christianity has been a tradition. Examples date back to the catacombs in Rome, where 1st century Christians hid during persecutions. Over the centuries, churches commissioned artists. But aspects of the Protestant Reformation cut into this. "It cut off knowing with all of our senses," Kapikian said.

The "left wing" of the Reformation abolished both the musical and visual arts in worship, and Puritanism later "reinforced the suspicion that these arts are unsuitable within the Christian community," wrote the Rev. Dr. Laurence H. Stookey, professor of preaching and worship at Wesley, in a paper on the program.

Although a Protestant hymnology gradually developed, "disdain" for the visual arts still lingers, he said. This, he said, is a mistake.

"Like the Creator, the artist works by bringing order out of chaos," Stookey said. "The visual arts, both in material and process of creating , support the Judeo-Christian belief that the physical world is not inherently an obstacle to spirituality but instead is intended as a means of divine communication. An artist, while not a cocreator with God, creates in imitation of the divine pattern."

On a recent afternoon before class, Kapikian moved from one student project to another. "Everything that you see here are steps in the creative process," she said. "He was risk-taking here," she said excitedly of the giant structure, then moved to a composition of hands. "This student never, never had any encounter with the visual arts, the creative process, before."

Students and faculty were wandering in and out. Standing in one group, Stookey said, "Whether you're writing sermons, making presentations to administrative bodies, counseling, unless you're creative, you're just using wooden forms, you're just repeating."

Nearby, Dave Ryan, a Wesley student, was Seminarians at Wesley Discover The Creative Process Through Art By Paula Herbut Washington Post Staff Writer

The students were happily discussing fabrics, design and symbolism instead of debating theological concepts.

They sat around a large work table with art materials piled in the center. Slides of religious art flashed on a screen before them.

"Ah-h . . . ." The murmur swept the room as a slide of a tapestry in blues and fiery red, based on the story of Genesis, appeared.

The classroom was filled with paintings in bright watercolors and acrylics; on one wall were sketches in charcoal. Panels for a wall hanging were spread over a work table on one side of the room. A giant wire-and-fiber structure stood from floor to ceiling nearby.

The room vibrated with color and motion. This might not have seemed unusual in an art class elsewhere. But these were seminarians. Their course, held in the art studio of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, is part of an art program considered rare for a seminary.

To Catherine Kapikian, the instructor and the seminary's artist-in-residence, art and religion have a natural affinity. Both "speak symbolically," she said. "We're created in the image of God, we are a reflection of God. The capacity to create is a part of our endowment."

The program, started by Kapikian three years ago at this Methodist seminary, includes an art appreciation course related to religious art and a practical application course that uses what Kapikian calls the "creative process."

Students, who come from other Protestant and Roman Catholic seminaries in the Washington area as well as from Wesley, are given the option of producing creative art projects instead of writing papers.

Some seminary students also contract for art instruction under Kapikian, a Rockville artist and 1979 Wesley graduate. A few students have been apprenticed to work with her on commissions from churches and institutions.

Meanwhile, passersby can stop in to watch the seminary's two artists-in-residence at work in the studio. Besides Kapikian, there is Edmund Tettah, the seminary's new visiting artist-in-residence from Ghana.

Art in Christianity has been a tradition. Examples date back to the catacombs in Rome, where 1st century Christians hid during persecutions. Over the centuries, churches commissioned artists. But aspects of the Protestant Reformation cut into this. "It cut off knowing with all of our senses," Kapikian said.

The "left wing" of the Reformation abolished both the musical and visual arts in worship, and Puritanism later "reinforced the suspicion that these arts are unsuitable within the Christian community," wrote the Rev. Dr. Laurence H. Stookey, professor of preaching and worship at Wesley, in a paper on the program.

Although a Protestant hymnology gradually developed, "disdain" for the visual arts still lingers, he said. This, he said, is a mistake.

"Like the Creator, the artist works by bringing order out of chaos," Stookey said. "The visual arts, both in material and process of creating , support the Judeo-Christian belief that the physical world is not inherently an obstacle to spirituality but instead is intended as a means of divine communication. An artist, while not a cocreator with God, creates in imitation of the divine pattern."

On a recent afternoon before class, Kapikian moved from one student project to another. "Everything that you see here are steps in the creative process," she said. "He was risk-taking here," she said excitedly of the giant structure, then moved to a composition of hands. "This student never, never had any encounter with the visual arts, the creative process, before."

Students and faculty were wandering in and out. Standing in one group, Stookey said, "Whether you're writing sermons, making presentations to administrative bodies, counseling, unless you're creative, you're just using wooden forms, you're just repeating."

Nearby, Dave Ryan, a Wesley student, was inspecting his "tree," the giant wire-and-fiber structure. It was a composition of tetramorphs--symbols of the four Gospel writers. "I hope it's unsettling to people. It confronts them with distortion, with emptiness," Ryan said. "It expresses when humanity tries to face issues apart from God."

Ben Goggin, who last summer drew biblical pictures in the sand in a children's beach ministry, was working near his modernistic blue painting of a crucified Jesus. He plans to use art after ordination as "a visual tool," he said.

Not all of the art was obviously religious. A large cut-out clown hung on one wall. In Tettah's space in the studio hung paintings of Washington during the February blizzard.

Wesley student Kirsta McCullough's work included a charcoal sketch of women crab pickers and a series of sketches of a troll-like creature and a sleeping man. They're not religion-related, an outsider commented.

"A part of art is to put people in touch with their own spiritual understanding," she replied. graphics/1&2: Catherine Kapikian, left, artist-in-residence at Wesley Theological Seminary, started art program there three years ago. It includes an art appreciation course. Dave Ryan stands with his tree, a giant wire-and-fiber creation based on symbols of the four Gospel writers. Photos by Craig Herndon--TWP inspecting his "tree," the giant wire-and-fiber structure. It was a composition of tetramorphs--symbols of the four Gospel writers. "I hope it's unsettling to people. It confronts them with distortion, with emptiness," Ryan said. "It expresses when humanity tries to face issues apart from God."

Ben Goggin, who last summer drew biblical pictures in the sand in a children's beach ministry, was working near his modernistic blue painting of a crucified Jesus. He plans to use art after ordination as "a visual tool," he said.

Not all of the art was obviously religious. A large cut-out clown hung on one wall. In Tettah's space in the studio hung paintings of Washington during the February blizzard.

Wesley student Kirsta McCullough's work included a charcoal sketch of women crab pickers and a series of sketches of a troll-like creature and a sleeping man. They're not religion-related, an outsider commented.

"A part of art is to put people in touch with their own spiritual understanding," she replied.