#ArtUnlocks: Why we all need to reconnect with art

Sam Ainsley is an artist and teacher until 2005 was Head of the MFA Programme at Glasgow School of Art. After five decades of being an influential artist and teacher, she shares with us the joy and experiences that art has brought to her life.

Scotland without art would be a barren place. That’s why this summer I’m supporting Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s campaign #ArtUnlocks. The campaign encourages people across Scotland to visit their local galleries, take part in artistic activities, and talk about how art has helped them feel differently about everyday life.

This year marks 50 years since I first went to art school to take my foundation course in Leeds. I’ve always loved art. As a young person it was the thing that gave me the most joy. It was freedom, independence, and excitement. But I also wanted to find out more about the world I lived in. I was curious.
I taught in art schools for 25 years, watching generations of artists find their voices. At Glasgow School of Art, I worked in the incredible Sculpture and Environmental Art Department with David Harding. Later I started the prestigious Master in Fine Art course from scratch with my colleagues Roger Palmer and John Calcutt. We wanted students to have their individual journeys. We tried to support them in their wants and wishes.

We saw the difference this made to young people’s lives as they became artists who were ambitious for their work. In the 1980s and 90s, we saw them taking on the practical challenge of being an artist at a time when there were few dealers or art collectors in Scotland. Art gave them a sense of achievement, and a sense of community, of being part of something bigger than themselves. Art helped them mature. Few gave up.

Art helps me tell my own story. It’s an accumulation of my life, my travels, the issues that concern me and the themes of my work: from the relationship of the human body and the landscape to feminism. Artists often struggle to make a living but making art can get you through tough times. Creating things is incredibly sustaining. You make new discoveries all the time.

Art can enrich lives, but it also asks questions; what does the future look like? Who do we want to be? What do we think? For me, it’s important that communities across Scotland continue to have free access to galleries.

Five decades after my first training I’m busy. I have a solo exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy in August and I’m working on a series of paintings. I’ll be making embroidered text-works for a show at Zembla Gallery in Hawick in November. Next year I have a solo show at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. Art has been with me my whole life and brought so much joy. That’s why I would like it to be part of more people’s lives.

I would urge everyone to visit a gallery, take part in a creative activity, even learn a new skill. I would also urge councils and the Scottish Government to support art. Why? So that art can spread more joy.

This article was featured in Herald Voices on Wednesday 22nd June 2022.

Find out more about our #ArtUnlocks campaign here.

Image: Artist Sam Ainsley in her Glasgow studio, June 2022. Credit: Alexander Hoyles