I am currently taking an introductory art history class, and Gombrich's THE STORY OF ART is the textbook. This book was an absolute pleasure to read, as I found myself going beyond the assigned readings. I finished the entire book from beginning to end within the span of two weeks!
Even if you aren't very interested in art history, THE STORY OF ART remains a must read; at worst, you will be entertained, and at best you will gain an entirely new perspective on art. The prose is masterfully written and the analysis he presents is very accessible. He discusses everything from ancient Greek sculpture to Renaissance painting to modern architecture. The reproductions of the artwork in the book are also extremely good (there are several high-quality fold-out pages included, such as one of Leonardo's Last Supper pre-restoration). I was very pleased with both the amount and breadth of coverage he provided.
Even though I haven't read any other introductory art history books, I find it hard to believe that any other book could do the job as well as Gombrich has done it here. I would highly recommend THE STORY OF ART to anyone who wants an art history primer.
Gombrich's book has a very specific purpose: he wants to tell the history of art as a continuous story, focusing on Western art and its gradual approach to the visual world. In strong contrast to most other art history texts, Gombrich's book has a thesis, and therefore an argument. In choosing among the various alternates (Janson, Gardner, Stokstad, etc.) it is important to bear this in mind. The size and compression of his book is not its salient feature from a
philosophic standpoint: it is the presence of an authorial voice, and a continuous narrative. Most other survey texts give up the ideal of coherent exposition in favor of a neutral descriptive voice and a fragmented "story" that
continuously interrupts itself in order not to lose any essential historical detail.