I've been enjoying the Art Authority for iPad ($9.99) from Open Door Networks for some time now, initially just exploring the the various artists, periods and styles and then exploring it as a coffee table book of sorts. Though at a recent dinner party where there was some lively discussion about the iPad versus Kindle with a side by side comparison (no comparison) most everyone agreed that the iPad with Art Authority isn't a coffee table book, it has a different purpose.
In particular the point which got tossed around the most was that coffee table books are static (don't change), and they're not necessarily about finding information and then using it. They are about sitting on a coffee table to look at. Art Authority is more than a book precisely because it is dynamic a "web image browser" is at the heart of the app, and encourages learning of the fine arts by giving you the ability to find information on an artist, genre, etc from within the app - grated that information is from linking to wikipedia, not always the most authentic information since it's edited on the fly by anyone with a computer. However with that risk out in the open, it has the potential to be very in-depth and a more balanced source of information if you take the time to follow links to verify information you might be interested in. Traditional bound books are by no means without bias and misinformation either, though we sometimes forget that. With that in mind there's nothing more elegant than the work of Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi, I actually own this particular coffee table of his and the Art Authority definitely provides accurate images and information on the artist.
The app is simple enough to use, just open it up and you're presented with a pleasant wall of Western art periods from Baroque to Modern. You also have a menu of artists and of another menu of controls to tweak your exhibit experience e.g. transitions between images, setting up shows, saving images, etc. When you go to a particular artists page you'll have several pieces of art representing their body of work, and by double tapping on the image you blow it up and get the menu along the bottom of the image to find more information on the image, save it, scroll forward and back etc.
I think to understand this app though, you need to see it in a context that shows how well it helps you live an artful life, for me it was about inspiration (see the iPad holder I created). So please look at my video blog, consider how it all works, then consider adding this app to your iPad.