The fact that we’ve spent several days and upteen thousand words discussing it says “yes,” but I’d like to take a closer look as to why that might be so.
Stephen King said somewhere that any creative work throws off art the way plutonium throws off radiation. He’s right, I think, provided that the creative endeavor is sincere — no sincere creative work, no matter how inept, can fail to say something about the human condition. Whether that “something” is profound or trivial, beautifully or clumsily expressed, etc., is what distinguishes bad art from good. Something like Hamlet has survived every attempt to subvert or “deconstruct” it, because no matter what you do to it — rewrite it in Ebonics, set in on Mars, cast a Kardashian, whatever — the character’s inner conflict is indisputably real. Hamlet tells us something about being human, because Hamlet is human.
Even propaganda passes this test, though of course not in the way the artist intended. This is good propaganda:
It’s bad art, I’ll grant you, but it’s art for all that. You can sense the artist’s worldview in his painting, and though you probably don’t agree with it, there’s nobody who hasn’t wanted something like this at some point in his life (however briefly). It’s Nazi art for Nazi purposes, but Nazis were people too. Didactic art is still art.
Which brings us to this:
Folks in Our Thing learned that a Black Panther movie was in the works and, after finding out what Black Panther is, immediately dismissed it as yet more SJW agitprop. It’s not, though. Propaganda is didactic art; Black Panther, like Girlbusters before it, is a liturgy. There’s no lesson here, because everyone who goes to see it already has the catechism by heart. You don’t see it to see it; you see it to be seen seeing it. “Thank God I am not like other men!,” saith the Pharisee.
And so, Conan. I don’t really think John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenneger sat down with a copy of Nietzsche for Dummies and doped out how best to put in on film. But Conan comes from an obvious, coherent worldview — it is, at worst, propaganda. At best — and I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for — it says something about the human condition, and says it pretty well. Not bad for a sword-and-sandal pic starring a professional bodybuilder.
UPDATE 2/10/2018: Further evidence that Conan is indeed art: A strikingly different take, from commenter Whiskey Jack. Any creative product that sparks thoughtful discussion over its meaning is art.