“As an artist, I recently started to think of myself as transdisciplinary—working across a number of disciplines and with a number of scholars whose primary discipline may be different or even divergent from my own.”
Merritt is working on an interactive motion-capture software and hardware system with his colleague Jane Hawley. The project is called The Haptic. Haptics (pronounced HAP-tiks) is the science of applying proprioception (awareness of body position) and control to interaction with computer applications.
“It consists of an infrared camera and some cool software that we write,” he says. “My role is primarily as a programmer, working with Jane and conducting research on how the body alone can be used as a computer interface.”
Merritt has always been intrigued by how art can sit at the intersection of a lot of different subjects. “As an artist, I recently started to think of myself as transdisciplinary—working across a number of disciplines and with a number of scholars whose primary discipline may be different or even divergent from my own.”
Art, for Merritt, is the only discipline that, at the core of its practice, allows a person to be fully engaged in the most basic of human faculties to observe and perceive. “Artists typically have a high degree of sustained critical attention,” he says. “This kind of focus is useful in all disciplines. For me, this training has led to research in history, art’s connection to the history of science, information visualization, critical theory, and memory.”
Merritt feels the practice of the liberal arts at a small institution is particularly welcoming to this kind of free-ranging investigation.
Merritt teaches “Gothic Renaissance and New Media Art: Italy, France, and Germany.” The course explores the art of the Renaissance to contemporary new media.
“With an emphasis on the tools of its production, and its social and political surroundings, my students address how art developed and functioned in temporal context,” he says. “They visit the world heritage locations of Florence and Siena, Italy, where they view the respective cities’ great museums and important sites. They also see the large museums and architecture of Strasbourg and Paris. In Karlsruhe, Germany, we visit the Zentrum Für Kunstund Medientechnologie (The Center for Art and New Media Technology).”
“I knew I wanted to have a life of learning and sharing knowledge, so in the fall of my freshman year of college I decided I’d become a liberal arts professor,” he says. “I was drawn chiefly to the notion that personal freedom is linked to the freedom to explore a broad education, mingling disciplines, harvesting data, converting it to information, crystallizing it into knowledge, and sharing it with the world.”
Merritt feels he came to the arts relatively late. “As an undergraduate and initially as a graduate student, my major focus was in history, and I always had been interested in art as an avocation,” he says. “As I matured, I started to think of art as much more than a discipline that makes art objects. I began thinking of the arts a discipline, like any other, that shapes minds. So I took the plunge and pursued a degree in the arts.”
The most rewarding part about being a professor at Luther is the students. They’ve consistently amazed me with their level of engagement, academic integrity, and, more importantly, their humanity.
I’m a magician and mentalist. I occasionally perform and more frequently invent.