Relativity generally refers to the idea that something is best understood within a specific context or relationship. In the realm of art, relativity communicates the belief that an absolute understanding of art will be hard to come by. A thoughtful evaluation of art depends on the time period, what's being compared, and how it’s being compared. In other words, it’s relative.
There are many ways to illuminate the relationship between art and relativity. One way is to talk about Jackson Pollock. In the 1940s, Pollock’s art was controversial. Many people criticized his techniques. Yet one art critic, Clement Greenberg, defended Pollock and communicated the artistic merits of expressionist artists like Pollock.
In relation to the twenty-first century, with Pollock’s art having a home in legendary art institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one probably won’t feel much pressure to defend Pollock’s work as art. However, one might wind up in a debate about how Pollock’s art perpetuates harmful forms of masculinity.
Relativity also explains why some artists fall into favor and some fall out favor in any given time period. Right now, with society reckoning with its historical marginalization of women, many female artists, including Pollock’s wife, the artist Lee Krasner, find themselves in the spotlight.