“Instant classic” is, of course, an oxymoron. A classic is something that has passed the test of time, and by definition that cannot happen instantly.
But how long should the test of time last? In his book Love What Lasts, Joshua Gibbs argues that 100 years after the death of the artist is about the right amount of time, because that is the span of personal memory.
An individual may have memories from 50 years ago that he passes on to someone 50 years younger, but it’s unlikely the young hearer will pass along the same memory. Or to look at it another way, 100 years is about four generations, and hardly anyone has much connection to a great great grandparent.
If a work is still of interest 100 years after the death of the person who created it, the work must have some value that extends beyond a personal connection to its creator.
I’m about a third of the way through Gibbs’ book and it’s the most thought-provoking thing I’ve read lately.