Overview of Categories
Definitions of Categories
Titles or Names
Materials and Techniques
Examination History
Treatment History
Subject Matter
Descriptive Note
Critical Responses
Related Works
Current Location
Collecting History
Exhibition/Loan History
Cataloging History
Related Visual Documentation
Related Textual References
Person/Corporate Body Authority
Generic Concept Authority
Subject Authority
Cataloging Examples
Entity Relationship Diagram
The CDWA and Other Metadata Standards
Metadata Standards Crosswalk

Categories for the Description of Works of Art


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 (CAA).

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).

Required categories
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 retrieval.

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.

Linked Open Data (LOD)
A current trend in managing art information is to increasingly make data about art, architecture, and cultural heritage objects available as Linked Open Data (LOD). CDWA advocates the use of LOD. When data is linked and open, it means that data is structured and published according to the principles of Linked Data, so that it can be both interlinked and made openly accessible and shareable on the Semantic Web. The goal of linked open data is to allow data from different resources to be interconnected and queried, thus making it more useful. CDWA, which maps to CONA (the Cultural Objects Name Authority), can be mapped to an LOD schema when CONA is released as LOD in July 2015.

Send questions and comments to cdwa@getty.edu.

Revised 7 October 2014