I have a theory that if Paul McCartney released ‘Yesterday’ for the first time on one of his current albums it would not be recognised as the towering classic it clearly is. It was part of the Beatles’ narrative of taking the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and inviting it for a cup of tea, but now it would be a reluctantly-tolerated footnote in the McCartney 21st Century solo oeuvre.
Timing, innit? Will a creation ride its context to immortality like a winged stallion, or will it appear to a deafening chorus of indifference?
Although certain marketing moments (Christmas, Summer, the death of the artist) will clearly be more successful, trying to time the point when a work of art is released to maximum effect is basically impossible.
Is the world ready for your work? If so, to what extent? Would it have been received with greater enthusiasm a month earlier, or later? How can you know? After all, a work of art is seen and reacted to and that’s it. It might be reappraised at some point in the future, but one has just as little control over that occurrence. We sometimes talk of things being ‘ahead of their time’, but that just tends to be another way of saying something’s ‘shit, but someone in the future might like it’, or, in retrospect, ‘everyone thought it was shit, then changed their minds but we have no idea why’.
And clearly many people’s artistic expressions seem to be of a time, otherwise they’d be received equally well/badly throughout their entire careers. Some are, but many people hit a peak (or trough) at some point, which is usually attributed to ability when it might just be a case of, as Brian Wilson said, ‘I guess I just wasn’t made for these times‘.
The crazy thing is that you can never be sure. You create, release and hope (or, if you are of a more nihilistic disposition, you don’t give a shit), but you can’t have any control over something that is both indefinable and constantly shifting. In addition you often don’t have say over when your art is released. It may not quite be the optimal moment in terms of the mood of the nation, but Christmas is coming and the publisher needs to put your book out, or the product is about to be launched, and your ad must appear along with it. Will the timing be perfect, or will your magnum opus drown in a sea of similar work that appeared unexpectedly three days earlier?
No one will ever know.
Good luck with that.