The classic defensive maneuver is classic because it’s an automatic reaction many, if not most, people have when their work is criticised. It’s only those who have more self-awareness than usual or who have discovered that reacting this way does no good at all, and, in fact, often causes us to act in ways that when seen with hindsight are downright embarrassing, or, at the least, make us appear rather immature and inexperienced.
The classic defensive maneuver seems absolutely right to the person offended by the opinion that causes the reaction. When in the grip of it, the sufferer sees nothing other than their own perspective, a perspective created by one single aim: to prove that one’s work is not as the critic says it is. When in the grip of the classic defensive manoeuvre we must, at all costs, retain our sense that the art work we have laboured over is perfect. If others criticise it, it’s because they don’t understand, not that we’ve failed to create something people can understand.
So what is this classic defensive maneuver ? It’s finding fault with the critic to preserve our ego. If we want to convince ourselves and others that the criticism is mistaken, we will denigrate the giver of the feedback, reducing them, in our eyes, to a complete idiot who simply does not understand our great work of art. The critic’s qualifications, their background and experience that makes them a valuable critic will be ignored, just as whatever makes someone a poor critic will be ignored if we like the feedback we get. The person in the grip of the classic defensive maneuver simply refuses to see any value in the criticism at all.
This maneuver makes the person feel much better—that’s why we do it. It allows them to hold onto their opinion of the perfection of their work. It defends their ego, the part of us that clings to our idea of who we are, an idea that can be quite different to who we really are, and how we appear to others. What it doesn’t do is allow them to grow, to improve, to revise a work or to do better next time.
It’s easy to fall into the classic defensive maneuver . It’s a knee jerk reaction that can be on us before we recognise it, but it is ultimately damaging, and for anyone watching, it is simply sour grapes. One thing that all artists must learn as soon as possible it to take criticism without becoming defensive or abusive. Swear at your critics all you like in private, but do it in public and, at best, you’ll look like an amateur.
Charles Ray says
We’re all tempted to do it. A sure sign of maturity is when we resist the temptation.
Tahlia Newland says
So true. Ego is wired that way. I find I can feel it rising, then I take a deep breath and let it go. Awareness is the first step.