Michelle Wang

Dissertation Fellow
Image of Michelle Wang.

Michelle Wang’s dissertation in History of Art, entitled Characters of Design: Writing and Materiality in Early China, examines the interplay of design and material technology in the construction of characters found on bronzes, textiles, and eaves tiles dating from the Warring States period (472-221BCE) to the Eastern Han Dynasty (9-189 CE) in China. These characters are often described as “artistic” or “decorative,” but such descriptors do not explicate why these characters are more decorative than other types of writing. Close studies of characters on multiple surfaces, their makers, and viewing conditions suggest that this bifurcation only skims the surface of a multi-layered problem. Ms. Wang suggests that the categorical boundaries defining the “decorative” must be rendered porous because all writing was designed, and these design processes may explain why variations proliferated even during a time of presumed standardization. By asking “How does separating language from writing affect artisanal and scribal design practices?” she considers the shifting definition of legibility and the functions of the technology of writing as it applies to words, pictures, people, and places.