Academic research

Academic research has been focusing on documenting cultural heritage objects including art pieces ever since there was a need to properly record and store data, yet only recently we have seen the emergence of accepted standards, even though they have not yet been implemented in tools used in institutions.

The standard we have chosen to follow is CIDOC-CRM - a general data model developed primarily for museums, thus covering everything we need in the arts & culture space. The CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) provides definitions and a formal structure for describing the implicit and explicit concepts and relationships used in cultural heritage documentation.

“The CIDOC CRM is intended to promote a shared understanding of cultural heritage information by providing a common and extensible semantic framework that any cultural heritage information can be mapped to. It is intended to be a common language for domain experts and implementers to formulate requirements for information systems and to serve as a guide for good practice of conceptual modelling. In this way, it can provide the “semantic glue” needed to mediate between different sources of cultural heritage information, such as that published by museums, libraries and archives.”

We cannot have a worldwide decentralized protocol for tracing art on a blockchain without understanding the complex relationships between objects and actors and how we are documenting them.

Relationships between objects can be understood as a form of transactions, where actors and objects perform actions that are stored inside the database. CIDOC-CRM modeling provides detailed standardization of all classes of objects and their interdependencies needed for proper record keeping and provenance. The CIDOC-CRM is the culmination of over 10 years of work by the CIDOC Documentation Standards Working Group and CIDOC CRM SIG which are working groups of CIDOC. Since 9/12/2006 it is official standard ISO 21127:2006. CIDOC-CRM is supported by ICOM - international council of museums and CIDOC international committee for documentation.

Blockchain does not solve certification and provenance of an object per se. Neither do transactions stored on a distributed ledger, where we are tracing the ownership of a hashed object on a forkable platform. That is just scratching the surface of a millennial problem.

A proper blockchain-based solution for the arts & culture unified and distributed registry must cover not only the handling of new transactions but the management of all previous transactions and associated metadata, including documentation and certification. We need to create a unified solution that will be widely used, with an adequate protocol layer implementing blockchain-based transaction models. This will take time and it will not happen overnight.

Now, with the additional benefits that blockchain provides we need to extend the standard with new features like fractional ownership, digital rights with digital scarcity, unique collectibles that exist only on the blockchain, etc. The creation of a proper semantic framework for blockchain features and implementing that into already approved models will not only be a local development challenge but will need to be communicated, explained, and approved by proper bodies in charge of standardization like CIDOC Documentation Standards Working Group.