Proposal:Unknown artist

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Unknown artist
Proposal status: Draft (under way)
Proposed by: AlephNull
Tagging: artist:unknown=yes
Applies to: node, way, area, relation
Definition: Unknown or otherwise anonymous artists

Draft started: 2021-11-14


Proposed is a new tag artist:unknown=yes to indicate that the artist of a work is unknown.


Current situation

There is no otherwise established way of indicating that the artist of a work is unknown. Tagging of unknown artists using artist_name=* or the deprecated artist=* is currently discouraged. Examining taginfo we can see that some artworks are nevertheless tagged this way, in various styles and languages (Hungarian, English, French, German, Spanish, etc.). Note that the table of artist_name=* values below may contain false positives.

artist_name=Author unknown

Use case

Explicitly tagging that a work is anonymous may be useful for database validation/completion. For example one could create a map that shows all artworks without artist information in a given area, which could then be used for surveying. Having a tag for unknown artists helps eliminate false positives from that map.

Additionally, the tag could be used to show artist information in a user’s preferred language.

The tag also disambiguates between unknown artists and artists whose name could be mistaken for a word or abbreviation meaning “unknown”.

Alternative approaches and key names

One could alternatively reuse the existing key artist:wikidata=* and tag the work with artist:wikidata=Q4233718 using the QID of “unknown artist”. Even if one prefers this approach it seems sensible to have a human-readable counterpart for this tag. Also note that this QID has seen zero usage so far in OpenStreetMap according to taginfo.

The key name should not be noartist (which would be in parallel with noexit=* and similar tags), since such artworks do have an artist, only one that may have chosen to remain anonymous or been lost to time.

A viable alternative key name would be artist:anonymous, but that results in a longer tag and uses a less basic English word. Pseudonymous artists are also sometimes (imprecisely) called anonymous artist, but pseudonymous artists are not covered by the proposed tag (see the section on tagging below). Finally, current ad hoc tagging using artist_name=* uses various forms and translations of “unknown” more often.


The key primarily applies to tourism=artwork, but it could be used on any feature where current artist tags might apply. Only tag a feature with artist:unknown=yes if a plaque specifies an unknown artist or the work is otherwise known to be anonymous. If you cannot determine the name of the artist while mapping (e.g. the artist is not mentioned on the plaque or you cannot find a plaque), you can leave a note for other mappers using note=* or artist:note=*. Tagging an object with artist:unknown=no would typically be invalid, instead choose from artist_name=*, artist:wikidata=*, and artist:wikipedia=* and add suitable values. However, explicitly tagging something with artist:unknown=no might be of use in rare cases where an artist's name could be confused with a a string value denoting an unknown artist.

The presence of artist:unknown=yes implies artist:wikidata=Q4233718, which is the QID of “unknown artist”. This QID may be tagged explicitly for compatibility.

The tag artist:unknown=yes should not be used for pseudonymous artists or artist collectives. In those cases we can give more informative values for artist_name=* and artist:wikidata=* instead.

Examples and nonexamples

Image Tagging
Potnia Theron, Akrotiri.jpg


Since this tag replaces artist_name=* for anonymous works, its rendering is the same as artist_name=*. Infoboxes may show the information in a localized form, e.g. “XYZ, unknown artist” / “XYZ, artiste inconnu” / etc. There would be no special rendering on general maps.

See also

Features/Pages affected

Create a basic key page that summarizes the tagging suggestion of this proposal. Mention artist:unknown=* on the pages of artist=*, artist_name=*, and artist:wikidata=* to clarify how to handle unknown artists. Also mention the tag on features that may take on artists tags:

In most cases adding “or artist:unknown=yes” to the first mention of artist_name=* should suffice.

External discussions


Please comment on the discussion page.