The book I found was Jon Thompson's How to Read a Modern Painting: Lessons from the Modern Masters.
At the time of purchase, sharing my thoughts here was never part of the plan. But this blind squirrel found an acorn and scored big on both accounts. Thompson's book was enjoyable, fact-filled, and helped me learn more about modern art. It was also a comfortable 10" x 7" x 1" in size.
How to Read a Modern Painting consists of 370 pages where every pair of odd and even pages was a self-contained essay on a single significant painting. The essays include a brief biography of the artist and an analysis of the painting including a full-color plate of the work. In some cases another painting or two, by the same or related artists, were shown in smaller size for comparison. Artist or critic quotes were included in the analysis.
For example, Agnes Martin's Morning 1965 is featured on pages 302 and 303. The essay begins with her Canadian youth and her move to Manhattan in the 1950s. Barnett Newman advocated for her first show in 1958. At first glance her work might appear to be American Geometric Minimalist but its actually too contemplative to fit that genre. Her paintings appear "empty and formless but capable of yielding up all forms." Simply constructed, they are not simply apprehended with their shifting and wavelike movements.
|Agnes Martin, Morning, 1965|
This book was perfect for casual reading since you only had to read two pages at a time. But at the same time, the number of paintings and the insights of the essays allowed you to learn by comparing and contrasting. What I still don't understand are all the names of the various schools of painting - cubism, dadaism, expressionism, minimalism. All the boundaries seem to blur together. However, there was another book on the shelf about -isms in art. Maybe I'll get that one on my next trip to Buffalo.