Cataloging non-western art

The Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) guide is an extensive guide that seeks to recommend how collections should be documented.  It covers things that are seemingly obvious, like being consistent, but when applied become so complex it can make your head hurt.  The CCO lies down suggestions, not guidelines.  Ideally, it seems that the guidelines could make it easier for collections to speak to one another, such as when a museum loans, but there are so many suggestions and factors that need to be considered in this that I don’t think it becomes any easier with application.

Last quarter I was part of a class that worked on creating a digital archive of images for African art classes.  This essentially consisted of researching the images, which were already collected on artstor, and adding to them all the catalog or metadata that we could find on them.  While this seemed like an easy process at the get-go, it quickly became more complex as we began the research proartstorcess because the works of art were so diverse.  Being non-western, much of their metadata did not fit into the traditional categories that artstor had.  How do you classify a work’s “period/style” when it’s a form that is widely used throughout a specific culture’s existence? How do you give it a country of origin when the work was from a cultural group that crosses national borders?

We were able to find workarounds but the general naming convention of cataloging sites such as artstor and Dublin core can be awkward when applied to non-western works.  The CCO attempts to cover all of its bases but the fact still stands that we have not fully addressed how to mediate between western and non-western art.

2 thoughts on “Cataloging non-western art”

  1. I agree that most standards are catering to western objects, probably because the creators and the locations that archive the pieces are in the western part of the world. I’d be interested in taking a look at archives and museums that exist in the non western world and see if the categorization takes a similar approach or an entirely different one.

  2. I think that your analysis makes some good points as to problems that we have in trying to catalog and digitize everything. I don’t think there can ever truly be one standard, at least not one that encompass something as broad as art and even more so diversified by cultures.

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