Digital art: a metadata application profile

This is a proposed metadata application profile for a collection of born-digital artwork housed in an archive or museum. Examples of these types of collections include Internet Art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology, and the Jeremy Blake Papers at NYU. Born-digital artwork is not well-served by any of the existing metadata standards. It encompasses an incredibly wide range of mediums, including works that exist only on the internet, performances, projections, and installations. In order to capture the information needed for future exhibitions, preservation, and scholarship, the metadata for each artwork needs to include extensive information about the work’s creator, the associated hardware and software, location and repository information, copyright, display history, and the preservation policy attached to the piece. Many of these subjects are addressed in content standards and controlled vocabularies for fine art such as CDWA, AAT, and ULAN, but these resources are designed for traditional fine art and do not address the complicated nature of digital art objects or cover many contemporary art techniques or contemporary artists. Therefore, we have combined local elements we created with elements from PREMIS and Dublin Core in addition to CDWA and CDWA Lite to better capture the nature of digital artworks.

Collecting born-digital artwork requires institutions to gather information about the technical aspects of its the work’s creation and display to ensure its preservation, as well as the ownership, exhibition, and publication history that art historians will want to include in their research. The audience for the collection is art historians, museums, library and archive staff, other artists, researchers, and enthusiasts. The metadata should provide all the necessary information for someone to learn about the artwork and its place in history, as well as the technical and preservation information needed to continue to  access it in the future. The artworks in this collection could include single finished files or groups of working files that led to the creation of an artwork. Metadata is especially important for multi-file artworks because it will be needed to educate future users on the order in which the files were created, how they were created, and the way in which they interact.


For the final project, Krystal created the domain analysis graphic, the element specification, and the controlled vocabulary. The specification was the easiest to complete as only simple changes needed to be made from its previous iteration. The process of creating the entity-relationship diagram proved slightly challenging because of the move from a straightforward list of elements to representing links and connections between elements.

The controlled vocabulary proved to be the most interesting part of the final project, as it was a new addition to the application profile not addressed in earlier assignments. We decided that a mix of conceptual and physical terms would be best represented by our vocabulary, with topics directly related to the general subject of digital art rather than specific collections. Some of the terms are based on the mediums that digital artists use, and these were challenging to select and define because of the vast possibilities within the genre. Krystal focused on what appeared to the most common mediums mentioned in various online collections, but such a term list would need to be continuously updated to keep pace with innovations in the field. A local controlled vocabulary would definitely be necessary to accurately describe a collection of this type, as the major museums and libraries have yet to produce their own vocabularies for these subjects.

Lucy expanded the domain explanation, updated the XSD schema based on the changes made to the specification, created the sample XML record, and made the website. She had previously created a sample XML record in order to create the XSD file for Assignment 4, so did not find it too difficult to create the new files for the final project. In working on examples for the specification for Assignment 3 and the XML record for the final project, she found it helpful to use a real artwork as a guide. For the specification, she used net.flag by Mark Napier and for the XML record, she used Brandon by Shu Lea Chang. In each case, some information about the artwork was added and/or changed to better suit the assignment.

The domain of digital art proved to be a fruitful subject for this assignment. There is a real-world need for metadata systems to more accurately represent this type of artwork, and it was interesting to think about the ways in which the metadata schemas, standards, and vocabularies we have studied in this class could be combined and adapted to meet that need. These artworks can be incredibly complex and involve many different coding languages and file types, and it was hard to determine how to best represent these objects without having in-depth information about how they are constructed and what museum or archive collection managers would need to know. Researching these issues was outside of the scope of this project, so we made our best efforts to suggest solutions based on our limited knowledge.