In AP Language and Composition last year, we watched The Lion King with the intent of comparing it to Shakespeare. This struck me as funny for some reason, so for the day we watched it, I had tape on my shirt that read "I appreciate The Lion King on a deeper level than you." I did this to be funny, but it's sort of cancelled out by the fact that I'd seen joke on a T Shirt before, but with The Muppets instead of The Lion King.
So clearly I'm something of a smart-alec, and not even an origional one at that.
I like but do not love Shakespeare. This is something that John Savage, the protagonist in Aldous Huxley's dystopic Science Fiction novel, "Brave New World", and I do not have in common. He most likely would have legitimatly appreciated the Lion King on a deeper level than me, and not even in an ironic or sarcastic way. Be he given the oppertunity, he probably would have delighted in seeking out the comparisons to Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
Shakespeare's work, in addition to being the love of John Savage's life, provides the title of the book. See the following quote from "The Tempest":
How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!"
When John Savage comes to London, he finds what he believes to be an empty society. The people are happy yes, but there is no reason for their happiness. They take pills to be happy, they engage in orgies, and they bargin in meaningless sexual flings as opposed to concrete relationships. No one truly cares for each other, no one reads and no one writes. It's like a built house without anything inside- all the pieces are in place and it looks good on the surface, but closer inspection reveals how pointless it all is.
To John Savage, Shakespeare and his work represents the antithesis of this society. It means something, maybe tangible, maybe not, but he finds it beautiful whatever the case. It's the only thing in the world that John knows is important.
So perhaps that's the point of art, to mean something, to reveal a truth about humanity and a truth about life. Universal truth is a hard thing to come by though so maybe not.
Personal truth though, that seems obtainable enough. Everyone who enjoys it has probably gained something from literature, learned something even. "Slaughterhouse Five" taught me that you can't change the past and that stuff happens. (Stuff is a substitute for a word that completes the phrase but is not neccesarily school appropriate). "Then We Came to an End" taught me to delight in the little things, because they could be gone immediately. And "The Great Gatsby" taught me that what you desire most might not make you any less miserable than you already are. Something about the American Dream, if I remember the fishbowls from two years ago correctly.
But do stories have to mean something to be art? Some of my favorite novels ever have been written by a man named John Swartzwelder. He's an obscure middle aged recluse who is most famous for penning 59 episodes of The Simpsons. His stories are laugh a minute shenanagins, and I've never laughed harder at any piece of fiction than I have those novels.
They don't mean anything though, and Swartzwelder would be the first to admit it. The stories are joke machines, not plots in any thematic or overaching sense. Are those books still art? It seems pretentious and a little wrong to say that they're not not, but I'm still really not sure. A part of me that I'm not quite proud of thinks it's not art. This is the hipster part of me that listens to indie music largely because no one else has heard of the bands and hates Avatar because the plot was cliched and everyone else loves it. That's a part of me I'm not proud of because I don't like being a pretentious hipster. For the most part I don't think I am, but it's certainly a part of me.
It seems like any story that illicits an emotional response of some kind should be considered art though, be the emotions profound or fleeting. It seems inclusive, pretentious and wrong not to.