The Role of Visual Arts Competencies in Embedding Belonging, Diversity and Identity, Part 3 | Jude Ross | 7 Min Read

February 23, 2023

To quickly review: the first article focused on how to embed Identity and the second article addressed how to add Diversity to the traditional visual arts curriculum. The first article tackled how to embed Identity within the traditional Visual Arts Cannon, typically a bastion of the “old white guy club,” by using competencies that deepen the learning process for students. By integrating 21st-century skills into the art process, we not only give our students a fantastic art education but also support their ability to succeed in any future venture. Embedding Identity broadens students’ perspectives on how people look at and experience the world around them. My second article grew in scope to outline how competencies that embed Diversity into the curriculum add another layer of complexity and experience for students and further broaden their perspectives and horizons. 

This third article addresses the importance of Belonging. It’s not enough to have these conversations with students; it is necessary to create experiences and lessons in which students can feel and then express a sense of belonging. 


Cornell University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion offers a wonderful definition of belonging: “Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. It is when an individual can bring their authentic self…” This idea of bringing your authentic self to work, school, etc., is powerful. There is no energy lost within code-switching when this is possible. You feel welcome in the larger group because there is a genuine, true feeling of acceptance. Seth Boden’s blog really speaks to this last idea: “The experience of being treated and feeling like a full member of a larger community where you can thrive.”

Another huge aspect of belonging is that you can have a diversity of representation without inclusion, and inclusion without an environment of Belonging for everyone. With this idea in mind, one can see how powerful a tool Belonging can be when creating a supportive atmosphere for all.

When incorporating Belonging into the Visual Arts classroom, the first questions that come to mind are what types of artwork are on the walls? Are the images representative of the students in your classes? Is it a student-centered classroom? How can subtle cues create a more inclusive classroom?

Artists from left to right: Modigliani, Da Vinci, Lawrence, Ramona Parra Brigade Collective, Kusama

An environment in which students feel included and like full members of the community can be created through knowledge of your students: Who are they? Where do they come from? What languages do they speak at home? Knowing each student personally really helps them to feel as if they have a voice and are accepted/included for who they actually are.

Another area of the visual arts curriculum that can help students feel belonging is the incorporation of voice and choice in how students want to express themselves. This means moving away from projects that focus on particular “Artistic Styles,” such as having each student make a Picasso painting. Instead, we should focus on how new skills and competencies help students in their artistic development. 

AOE Choice Spectrum from The Art of Education

Continuum of Choice Menus with Four Different Levels by John Spencer

As an example, I recently developed a rubric for a second-grade drawing unit final project or summative assessment. Students completed three different activities to learn about value, texture, and drawing 3D forms in two dimensions. Afterward, they applied these skills to their own drawing. What they drew, the subject matter was entirely up to them. They could pull from whatever culture or interests they had. They are accepted for who they are as an artist and as a person. There is one exception, however: their artwork must be school-appropriate. What is measured has nothing to do with the content but with their ability to use different values, implied textures, and utilize 3D forms within their choice drawings.

At the same time, I also measure three different competencies. Once again, what I am measuring has nothing to do with the content of the students’ drawings: this is about communicating ideas verbally and visually, accepting feedback and revising work accordingly, and applying executive functioning skills when developing plans. How they choose to express themselves is entirely up to them and based on their interests. They are a full member of the artistic community and are allowed to express themselves how they wish and in alignment with their authentic selves. 

Teacher presentations are another way to create a culture of Belonging. I include the image below in a video about texture. It always creates quite a lively conversation with my younger students because some argue over the subject’s gender identity. I use it as a great opportunity to discuss binary systems, inclusivity, acceptance, and belonging. My hope is that conversations like these increase the feeling of belonging and acceptance.


In teacher presentations, it is important to not just introduce the idea but to also share how artists use these ideas in their own work. It is a chance for students to see how artists have developed ideas to make important artwork. My presentations are intentionally diverse: I include artists from different cultures and backgrounds that use the same concepts and ensure all students’ backgrounds and cultures are represented in those presentations. This helps students not only make connections to the subject matter and concepts, but also feel that they belong in our classroom. 


I am reminded of a recent Project-Based Learning unit I started with a third-grade class. We were working on identity and how artists portray a person’s unique identity through visual language. Even though this is portraiture, it includes so much more than how a person looks and who the person is. I began by looking at a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, a great example of how an artist does not just represent the way someone looks, but also provides insight into who the person is. A student in my class who is of Mexican descent quickly connected with Frida Kahlo, who also happens to be one of their favorite artists. They had even been to the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico. Including this artist from their culture and background showed this student that their cultural heritage should be celebrated and shared. This is Belonging, which is not only for our classes and schools but also for the larger art world and the art canon. 

​​The last two parts of this series spoke directly to some measurable competencies of success when teaching Identity and Diversity. Belonging is a little more difficult because it is more up to us the educators to create that environment. Belonging allows all students to be comfortable because it is an inclusive learning environment. Only then are students in the right mindset to learn and grow 100 percent of the time. The impetus is on us as educators to create this fertile environment for our students. Perhaps there is a competency that we, as educators, can be measured by our students, which is how well we have succeeded in creating an environment of Belonging for them!


Sense of Belonging, 2022. Cornell University. Retrieved from:

Boden, Seth. Start Here: A Primer on Diversity and Inclusion (Part 1 of 2). July 23, 2020. Harvard Business School Publishing. Retrieved from:

Modigliani, Amedeo. Detail from Woman in a Blue Dress, Seated. 1918-191). Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Retrieved from:

Da Vinci, Leonardo. The Last Supper. 1495–1498. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Retrieved from:

Lawrence, Jacob. Builders. 1974. Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Retrieved from:

Ramona Parra Brigade Collective. Cosmovisión Original. (n.d.). Nezahualcoyotl City, Mexico. Retrieved from:

Kusama, Yayoi. Self Portrait [TWAY]. 2010. Asia University Museum of Modern Art, Taichung. Retrieved from:

Balsley, Jessica. Where Are You on the Choice Spectrum?. 2016. AOE Choice Spectrum from The Art of Education. Retrieved from: /

Spencer, John. 4 Ways to Craft Choice Menus in Distance Learning Classes. Continuum of Choice Menus with Four Different Levels. 2020. Retrieved from:

Patterson, Ebony Grace. Gangstas, Disciplez + the Doiley Boyz. 2009. Retrieved from:

Kahlo, Frida. The Broken Column. 1944. Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico. Retrieved from:

Jude Ross

Jude Ross teaches at The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain (NV). He has lived on four continents and has been educating students in the U.S. and in international schools for over 17 years. He received two Masters degrees, an MFA in Painting and Drawing, and an MS in Curriculum and Instruction.

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