JASPER JOHNS, by Michael Crichton (Abrams/Whitney Museum, $28.50). The author of The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man may be precisely what the avant-garde needs: an intelligent nonspecialist (an artist in another medium) with a style that appeals to a large readership and powers of observation that can help his readers see the more arcane phenomena of art in our time in a fresh perspective. Crichton ranges far in his effort to understand and explain this artist's enigmatically simple work: a learned footnote on "the say physics departs from common sense" in the interaction patterns of light waves, a brief dissertation on the impossibility of wholly visual paradox; obiter dicta on the nature of perceptiion and of creativity, wven a brief excursion into the medical field, where he is professionally qualified: "We may speculate that his serotonin-mediated inhibitory mechanisms are more finely adjusted than those of many other people." More than half of this volume is devoted to excellent reductions of the paintings, and they speak for themselves. But they speak more effectively because they have been properly introduced.

CATALAN NOTEBOOKS: Unpublished Drawings and Writing, by Joan Miro, presented by Gaetan Picon (Skira/Rizzoli, $25). Miro's work, more than that of most artists, creates the illusion referred to in Picon's introduction: "that it sprang into existence at once stroke." In one case - a 1930 notebook reproduced here in its original size - this is true, but otherwise the drawings in these notebooks, as well as the sometimes cryptic notes jotted down (projects, technical ideas for experiments, musings on the forms and meanings of his art) are a rich sample of the groundwork, the careful preparation that makes possible seeming spontaneity of the creative act itself. Some of this material (words and drawings alike) developed into full-scale paintings, much of it remained only half-realized possibilities. But in all cases, when jotted down, it was seen as the beginning of something larger. Its collocation here, with perceptive commentaries, offers an unusual glimpse of the mind of an artist at work, as well as a chronological survey of his stylistic development.