At the Royal Scottish Academy, it seems, one Open Exhibition ends and another begins – and yet what different beasts they are. The imposing Playfair gallery on The Mound is the home of large-scale exhibitions, and these winter-time Opens are just as fascinating as the summmer blockbusters that fill the halls.

Certainly, there's much to admire at Visual Arts Scotland's annual Open, an exhibition – as the name suggests - open to both members and non-members, not just in Scotland but internationally. Only a few are chosen from the many pieces submitted (and sometimes more than one work will be accepted from the same artist), although all can put forward small items for the VAS Shop, which is continually restocked throughout the (four) week run. The open submissions complement the curated sections of the show, which includes invited artists Paul Keir and Ute Decker, the former's sculptural installations, Incomplete Inventory, which lean against the RSA walls, or are drawn on them, fully inhabiting the space; the latter's spiral coiled neck pieces, made using an innovative technique that creates, as she puts it, “geometric poetry”. There is also the graduate showcase, a selection of works from artists which VAS picked out from last year's degree shows.

Yet what is, perhaps, most admirable of all about this venture, is that it can manage to cohere something as small as an artist's book or a piece of jewellery with large-scale sculpture and installation. Nothing is lost. And this is no small feat, for the exhibiting artists are as diverse a bunch as one might expect from an organization which, whilst once an meeting ground for women artists has, since the 1980s, been open to all Scotland's artists.

Partly this is to do with the curation. The display is never crowded, areas of densely built-up paintings are balanced with areas of white wall. Colours are carefully considered so that, for example, in Room VII, into which you might first walk, if you turn back on yourself after coming up the front stairs, a low level table of artists books, including Liza Green's diminutive Linescape and Susie Leiper's Through the Clouds holds its own under the implied mountains of the latter's large scale oil on canvas (Ranges) and the brightly-coloured abstract landscapes of Kara Kirkwood and Ewan Robertson, stacked up on the far wall to the ceiling. Here too, are graduate Ailsa Morrant's 16 Medals of Everyday Life and Kennis Macleod's intricately worked embroidery piece, Falling Summer, the diversity of form and media in this beautifully hung room held together by subtle contrast and a notion of landscape.

What gives the VAS show a depth, too, is the healthy proportion of applied arts and craft, from ceramics to textiles. The lofty central gallery of the RSA is given over to Craft Scotland in large part, dominated by the Hirta walk-in wooden installation designed by Naomi Mcintosh, a malleable, free form structure that can be assembled and resassembled in many different ways to produce a space configured for whatever it is showcasing. Mcintosh's main work is in makes wooden jewellery and wall pieces, the necklaces like the spines of unknown creatures, interlocked and flexible.

Charlotte Barker's Flotilla installation is an elegant balance somewhere between functionality and sculpture, large hand thrown pots balanced on three-legged benches, beautifully carved from freshly sawn slice of tree, with spindly carved “stool” legs making the installation seem even more weightily fragile than it did in the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition a couple of years ago.

Elsewhere, continuing the woody theme, Thomas Hawson's Shrink-wrapped Dreams is a wooden cube of maritime memories, whilst Beth Legg's wonderful and evocative birch and driftwood jewellery and 'nests' of forest gleanings have their own weight alongside the larger pieces. You can see the joy, here, in the marrying of material, inspiration and making.

The day after I view the exhibition, a VAS representative tells me that, in a departure from the usual run of things, the VAS has won the £4,000 W Gordon Smith award, one which is normally given to one artist for a work in the show. It was awarded, she tells me, “in recognition of the outstanding exhibition they have produced in challenging circumstances.” The award-givers recognised that the award could have gone to a number of individual works, and so gave the whole to the organization, to help them to continue producing what is an incredibly costly yet wonderful annual survey of Scottish design and art.

Alight: Visual Arts Scotland, Open Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, Until 22 Feb, Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm, Free, but donations very welcome.

Critics Choice

Water is central to David Cass' art – it has been a focus ever since he left Edinburgh College of Art in 2010, as has his interest in painting on found objects. His most recent body of work, Rising Horizon, develops this productive vein in a continuing exploration of climate change – and the implication of all its devastating effects - as seen through rising sea levels. Here, on plastic food packaging, advertisement signs, pill tins, a hook-on racing car number, old paint tins, he paints his seascapes, things of beauty in themselves, celebratory, but also more subtly exploring the terrifying fallout of the Anthropocene.

Cass has worked with themes of inundation and destruction for many years, creating paintings, sculptural pieces and “overpaintings” that imagine inundation on a vast scale, not least in his studies of Venice and Florence. There is something of the miniaturist in Cass' work, a focusing in on the detail, no matter what the scale – and that scale ranges from the very small to the very large. He finds his objects at flea markets, salvage yards, antique fairs.

The reformed plastic and metal objects which he uses in this exhibition are a new departure for an artist who has made much of his previous work of, on and from found wood. Sometimes the recycling is not only in the use of the material as a surface upon which to paint, but a reuse of the object itself, as with his use of the oil paints in a 100 year old artist's box, to paint on its deconstructed exterior. The links with his theme are telling.

David Cass: Rising Horizon, Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, Until 23 Feb, Mon – Fri, 10am – 6pm, Sat, 10am - 4pm

Don't miss

Margot Sandeman, who passed away a decade ago, was a superb painter whose star was perhaps eclipsed in her early career by her association with her great friend and fellow Glasgow School of Art alumni Joan Eardley, but who has in the past twenty years or so been given the recognition her unique work deserves. Reminiscent of Matisse, at times, her work had poetry embedded in it, sometimes quite literally, in later years boldly linear, imbued with philosophy, a shared interest with her art school friend Ian Hamilton Finlay, with whom she collaborated on a number of paintings, prints and text pieces, some of which are included in this exhibition. Other subjects include the things close to her - family, in particular, and the Arran landscape she loved. Catch this whilst you can.

The Paintings of Margot Sandeman, Cyril Gerber Fine Art, 178 West Regent Street, Glasgow, 0141 221 3095,www.gerberfineart.com31 Jan – 23 Feb, Mon – Fri, 9.30am – 5.30pm; Sat 10am – 4pm