A review of metadata: a survey of current resource description formats
Work Package 3 of Telematics for Research project DESIRE (RE 1004)
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Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA)

Environment of use


The Categories for the Description of Works of Art were developed by the Art Information Task Force (AITF), sponsored by the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP) and the College Art Association (CAA).

The Categories were released in February 1996, free of charge in both hard copy and in a full hypertext publication in PC and Macintosh versions. Simultaneously a double issue of the journal Visual Resources was published devoted to the Categories and their use. Plans exist to mount the hypertext document on the Getty website in the near future.

Constituency of use

The Categories are developed for the communities that provide and use art information (e.g. museums and archives) and provide a structure for information used to describe works of art and images of them. They focus upon 'movable' objects and their images, including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, furniture, design, performance art, and so on, from all periods and all geographic regions. The Categories can serve three functions: as a mapping document to correlate diverse databases; as a planning document for designing new databases or for extending existing databases; and as a measure against which to evaluate automated tools.

The Categories intitiative maintains active liaisons with the CAA's Committee on Electronic Information, the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA), the Visual Resources Association's Data Standards Committee, the Museum Computer Network (MCN), and the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) consortium.

Ease of creation

The Categories are very extensive and developed for use by art specialists.

Progress towards international standardisation

As the Categories have only just been released, the future status is still uncertain. A few test projects have been initiated (e.g. five full cataloging examples from scholars in different specializations have been commisioned and will be put up on the website in the form of hypertext documents) and feedback form constituents is being collected. The fact that the Categories have already been mapped to other existing data standards (CIDOC data model, CIDOC MICMO, CHIN data dictionary, ICOM AFRICOM, MDA Spectrum, FDA guide), might influence the adoption of the Categories as a standard in the future.

Format issues


There are 26 main categories, and each category has its own set of subcategories.

Each category and subcategory has been defined using a consistent template. Each category opens with an overall Definition, followed by a list of the subcategories. There follows a Discussion of the art-historical importance of the information, including its purpose to the researcher, its nature or characteristics, and possible sources for the information. The rubric Relationships identifies other categories that contain related information and distinguishes between seemingly similar categories. Under the rubric Uses is a discussion of how the information might be applied in research. Access describes ways in which researchers might wish to retrieve the information. The subcategory template is the same as the category template, with the addition of Examples following the Definition, and the rubric Terminology/Format, under which applicable controlled vocabularies and other resources are identified.


Basic descriptive elements

The Categories are a statement of the intellectual content for a description of a work of art, but do no represent database fields or database structures for managing art information. When building an implementation based on the Categories, an institution needs to determine how to structure the data and what level of specificity best suits its needs.

The main categories are:

Subject description

Consists of the following subcategories:

Other categories relating to content are:


No special category specified.

Resource format and technical characteristics

Not specified.

Host administrative details

Not specified.

Administrative metadata


Terms of availability/copyright

Defined as: An identification of the individual or group that holds the rights to use, exhibit, or reproduce a work of art, along with an indication of any existing restrictions on its reproduction, exhibition, or use.

Rules for the construction of these elements

For a number of subcategories the use of controlled vocabularies and authority files to provide consistent access to names of people and places and to descriptive terminologies is recommended


Work on an SGML DTD is in progress.

Ability to represent relationships between objects

Some categories are provided to contain information about:



Protocol issues

Dependent on the kind of database that is created with the Categories.


The Inventario del Patrimonio Cultural in Chile has mapped their new database to the Categories, and the Hispanic Society in New York is doing the same. The member institutions of MESL (Museum Educational Site Licensing Project) are also taking the Categories into consideration.

The categories are being tested in the context of the CHIO project (see CIMI entry).

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Last update: 10-Jun-1998