Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA)
describes the content of art databases by articulating a conceptual
framework for describing and accessing information about works
of art, architecture, other material culture, groups and collections
of works, and related images. CDWA includes around 540 categories
and subcategories. A small subset of categories are considered
core in that they represent the minimum information
necessary to identify and describe a work. CDWA includes discussions,
basic guidelines for cataloging, and examples. You may print
an overview of the CDWA categories and definitions as a PDF
(see left navigation).
What is CDWA Lite?
CDWA Lite is an XML schema to describe core records for works
of art and material culture based on CDWA and CCO. CDWA Lite
records are intended for contribution to union catalogs and
other repositories using the Open Archives Initiative (OAI)
harvesting protocol. The CDWA Lite schema has been enlarged and integrated into the Lightweight Information Describing Objects (LIDO) schema, which is available on the CIDOC site.
What is CCO?
Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural
Works and Their Images (CCO) includes rules and examples
for a core subset of the CDWA categories and the VRA Core
Categories. It is available in hardcopy from ALA and on Amazon.com.
CDWA and other metadata element sets
CDWA is mapped to other standards and metadata element sets
in the Metadata Standards Crosswalks (see left navigation).
History of CDWA
CDWA is a product of the Art Information Task Force (AITF),
which encouraged dialog between art historians, art repositories,
and information providers so that together they could develop
guidelines for describing works of art, architecture, groups
of objects, and visual and textual surrogates.
Formed in the early 1990s, the task force was made up of representatives
from the communities that provide and use art information:
art historians, museum curators and registrars, visual resource
professionals, art librarians, information managers, and technical
specialists. The work of the AITF was funded by the J. Paul
Getty Trust, with a two-year matching grant from the National
Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to the College Art Association
Purpose of CDWA
CDWA provides a framework to which existing art information systems can be mapped and upon which new systems can be developed or data may be linked in an open environment. In addition, the discussions in CDWA identify vocabulary resources and descriptive practices that will make information residing in diverse systems both more compatible and more accessible.
The discussions in CDWA identify vocabulary resources
and descriptive practices that will make information residing
in diverse systems both more compatible and more accessible.
The use of the CDWA framework will contribute to the integrity
and longevity of data and will facilitate the inevitable migration
of data to new systems as information technology continues
to evolve. Above all, it will help to give end-users consistent,
reliable access to information, regardless of the system in
which it resides.
It is our hope that these guidelines will provide a common
ground for reaching agreement on what information should be
included in art information systems, and what information
will be shared or exchanged with other institutions or systems.
We envision the curator, the registrar, the researcher, the
information manager, the systems vendor, and others using
CDWA as a basis for making decisions about the content of
both new and existing databases.
CDWA has been mapped to or used as the basis for various art cataloging and information systems. For an example of an implementation of basic CDWA subcategories, see the vocabulary, Cultural Objects Name Authority (CONA).
CDWA was formulated for the needs of those who record, maintain,
and retrieve information about art information, including
the academic researcher and scholar. The categories and subcategories
that are indicated as core are those that the
task force agreed represent the minimum information necessary
to uniquely and unambiguously identify and describe a particular
work of art or architecture.
However, which categories are considered core can and indeed
should vary depending upon the end-users whom the particular
art information system are intended to serve, the mission
of the specific institution, and a number of other factors.
Display vs. indexing
CDWA often deals with differences between information intended
for display and information intended for retrieval. Information
for display is assumed to be in a format and with syntax that
is easily read and understood by users. Such free-texts or
concatenated displays may contain all the nuances of language
necessary to relay the uncertainty and ambiguity that are
common in art information. In addition, CDWA assumes that
certain key elements of information must be formatted to allow
for retrieval, often referred to as indexing in CDWA. CDWA
advises that such indexing should be a conscious activity
performed by knowledgeable catalogers who consider the retrieval
implications of their indexing terms, and not by an automated
method that simply parses every word in a text intended for
display into indexes.
In CDWA, display fields are often described as free-text fields
(which may be alternatively be concatenated from controlled
fields, if necessary); indexing fields are intended to be
controlled fields. CDWA advises the use of controlled vocabularies;
CDWA describes when categories should be controlled by a simple
controlled list (e.g., Classification), an authority (e.g.,
Creator), or by consistent formatting of certain information
(e.g., Earliest and Latest Dates) to ensure efficient end-user
Authority files and data structure
As data moves into ever more linked and open environments, various issues regarding data structure will need to be addressed. However, for the present, CDWA recommends a relational data structure, where records
for objects/works are linked to each other in hierarchical
relationships, where necessary. CDWA recommends maintaining
separate files or authorities for related visual works, related
textual materials, persons/corporate bodies, locations/places,
generic concepts, and subjects. Authority information about
persons, places, concepts, and subjects may be important for
retrieval of the work, but this information is more efficiently
recorded in separate authority files than in records about
the work itself. The advantage of storing ancillary information
in an authority file is that this information needs be recorded
only once, and it may then be linked to all appropriate work
records. Authorities described in CDWA should be hierarchical;
given that authority entities often require multiple broader
contexts, a polyhierarchical structure is recommended.
Send questions and comments to email@example.com.
Revised 21 October 2013