The Blank Slate

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Acrylic on Canvas 86 x 156cm

The 'blank slate', or 'tabula rasa' in latin, is a term referring to the wax tablets used by the Romans for writing. Notes were erased by heating and smoothing the wax. Within the nature-nurture debate in the social sciences, methodological behaviourism established itself as the leading psychological approach in psychology at the turn of the 20th century, favouring 'nurture' over 'nature'.

The blank slate model proposes that individuals are born devoid of built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience only. Their research inflicting ethical experiments that disregarded role of genes or biological components in behaviour. These were often carried out on children, as the behaviourists set out to prove any child could be trained to become a professional in any discipline. All predispositions were overlooked, and all inherited information disregarded. Behaviourist identified important effects of conditioning. However, they failed to factor in many powerful psychological forces, including the biological bases of behaviour or the influence emotions, attachment and motivation.

Blank slate models provided important information about the links between biology and behaviour, however, they also highlighted the need for a code of ethics in human research. A more rounded understanding of human nature followed, with the advent of Humanistic psychology. This new approach in psychology emerged to address the limitations of previous approaches, acknowledging the interaction between genetic and learned factors throughout the lifespan. Humanists placed emphasis on free will and personal agency. This new movement contributed significantly to a more holistic understanding of human nature. The implications for society have translated in the surge of policies of human rights, promoting human dignity and individual freedom in all areas of life, including education, health, and the workplace.

This painting portrays the dance of life in all its complexity, as nature and nurture interact endlessly. Like bricks in a wall, a myriad blank slates emerge from the lower part of the painting, like building blocks of society, two towering representations of the multitudes populating our planet at the present time. Yet one single slate dominates above, a symbol of the unique self, asserting the undeniable power of individuality. Rather than disappearing in the crowd, it emerges forcefully with a strong sense of perspective, reminiscent of its distant origins.

In sharp contrast with both columns of monochrome and angular slates rises the seductive and fluid shape of the DNA double-helix. Ethereal and crystalline, the two intertwined strands are symbolic of human nature. The two snakes intertwined in the symbol of health and medicine can also be fathomed in its swirling appearance. In its deceptive fragility, the aesthetics of the DNA detract from its earnest function: to encapsulate the instructions for life, encoded from our most immediate relatives to our most distant ancestors, for our species to adapt and survive. The genetic and cultural code transcending death, allowing future humans to interact with the environment. In this dichotomous process, individual patterns of life are added to an existing DNA in a dynamic, endless process. This painting is a celebration of the unique self, powerful, undiluted amidst the multitude.

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