Topeka artist Jim Bass is a local treasure. So is the art he has created, for commissions all over town. On October 3, Bass’s sculpture “Forgiven Man” was stolen from the First Congregational Church grounds. On October 11, the Topeka Capital Journal reported that it had been found.
It had likely been stolen for the bronze it was made of. For scrap. Another possibility, suggested by Rich Hayes via Linda, a volunteer in the Topeka Room, is that it had been a prank. Either way, this just makes me sad. A beautiful work of art, expressing the human condition, human spiritual need, and redemption gets stolen. It makes me more than sad, it makes me angry. The thieves didn’t care about the message the art conveyed. Like the thieves who stole the copper from the electrical facility, these people cared only about themselves, and their greed. They didn’t care who they hurt.They did not see that the art, and its message, has value of its own – beyond the cost of the materials, or what they thought would be a joke. How funny is any theft?
This is a perfect example of why we need the arts. It illustrates why we need to understand how art communicates ideas to us. All of us. Did the thieves care about what they were taking? No. Did they care it belonged to a church? No. Did they care about the hope that this piece expresses to people who see it? Obviously not. They cared about the money they could get for selling the metal. Ironically, the piece is too well-made to make that easy for them. Someone found it, reported it, and the piece was recovered with only minor damage.
Every day, we are bombarded with literally thousands of images. On our televisions, in our publications, in ads, billboards, mailers, and all of them are trying to convince us of something: Buy This. Believe This. Vote for This. Support This. Send Money to This. Now, of all times, in election season, we see the ways that images – and art – communicates ideas. Who is a hero? Who a villain? How can you tell? Pay attention to these images. Someone is trying to tell you something with them. Who is telling you what? And Why? We need to understand how art, and images, send messages. This is why we, in the Sabatini Gallery, put education about art as our primary focus. We help people ‘get’ art. Arts in schools has been cut, and cut, and cut. Some teachers are still teaching it, but many of them are doing it out of their own pocket, because they recognize how important visual literacy is. If you understand how images communicate, you know when you are being manipulated. And, you can control your own visual messages.
Jim Bass is an impressive artist. He works in the style of Cubism, the style that Pablo Picasso and George Braques invented in the 1910s. The idea behind Cubism is that everything exists in three dimensions, and also exists in time. The artist represents an image from multiple viewpoints, from real space – moving around the object, and showing the object from different viewpoints. Jim’s themes are often related to more than the formal elements of a figure. They are as much about the psychology of the figure as anything else. Jim is telling us about the human condition. In the case of Forgiven Man, the figure reaches out, offering hope to the rest of us.