Peter Fuller

(1947—1990) art critic and magazine editor

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British art critic, born in Damascus, the son of a doctor. After graduating in English from Cambridge University in 1968, he began working for City Press, New Society, and other journals in London, and for the rest of his life he earned his living as a writer. At Cambridge he had been influenced by Marxist ideas, and in art criticism he was initially a follower of John Berger. He created a particular stir with his polemical two-part essay ‘The Crisis in British Art’ (Art Monthly June/July 1977). Far beyond the actual merits of its arguments, it created a focus for a mood of widespread dissatisfaction among younger artists and critics with a British modern art establishment which appeared to have become complacent and servile to commercial values. However, Fuller gradually abandoned Marxism, and in 1980 he published Seeing Berger (reissued in 1988 with the title Seeing Through Berger), a riposte to his former mentor's highly influential book and television series Ways of Seeing, which he viewed as over-reductive in its equation of aesthetic value with the commercial and the ideological. An interest in psychoanalysis led him to locate the aesthetic value of art in its relationship to the body. This went very much against the prevalent reading of psychoanalysis in British art circles in which, under the influence of Jacques Lacan (see psychoanalysis), the structure of language was seen as dominant. At this time ‘anaesthetic structuralist’ became his term of abuse of choice for those with whom he disagreed. His views became increasingly conservative, and in 1988 he founded the journal Modern Painters to champion what he perceived as traditional values. The following year he was appointed art critic of The Sunday Telegraph, one of the most right-wing of British newspapers. Although his outlook had changed greatly over the years, his bellicose personality had not, and he became the most controversial British critic of his time: to his admirers he was a bold, plain-speaking champion of time-honoured values and common sense, and to his detractors he was a short-sighted philistine. He died in a car crash. ‘Modern Painters: A Memorial Exhibition for Peter Fuller’ was shown at the City Art Gallery, Manchester, in 1991. Apart from works on art, Fuller wrote an autobiography, Marches Past (1986), and he was co-author with John Halliday of The Psychology of Gambling (1974) (early in his life he had been a compulsive gambler).

Subjects: Art.

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