SOMETIMES, being lectured is a bore, but, sometimes, it's quite fun. Artist Chad McCail's paintings are often compared to educational diagrams or instructive literature, which makes you long for an education that matches his aspirations.

What is McCail trying to teach us? Well, forgive me Chad if I get it wrong, but as I have followed his work over the last few years, it seems to me to go something like this:

"Hey! Wake up! Stop being so greedy and selfish. Be nice to kids and they'll grow up to be nice, too. Take your clothes off and have sex with someone you love once in a while. Don't be ashamed of your body or your emotions. Try walking instead of taking the car. Don't make other people unhappy. Grow vegetables."

It seems kind of obvious stuff, but when you look at the prevalent imagery in McCail's new show - oil tankers, guns and military aircraft seem to pop up rather a lot, as do boys behaving badly - these are lessons that citizens and, in particular, governments clearly haven't learned.

McCail's exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, his first solo show in Glasgow, consists of only four of his distinctive gouache-and-ink paintings. Don't let that put you off. While four paintings may represent a mere morning's work for some high-profile and far less self-conscious artists in Scotland, with McCail it feels like they might have taken a lifetime.

Each reveals an elaborate social scenario in which repression or mechanisation is seen to thwart natural human instincts and lead to violence and mistrust. Each contains the kind of complex spatial structures, popularised in children's books from Richard Scarry to Incredible Cross Sections, which defy straightforward logic but make perfect sense.

Within their pictorial structures are little zones of pictures within pictures: an image taped to a wall or relayed through a computer screen or an illogical but captivating scenario in miniature that might have been taken from a medieval Biblical painting but is rendered in the flat hand of a 1950s health manual. These are pictorial worlds that are clearly constructed. The problem, McCail is suggesting, is man made.

In We are Driven by the Desire for Pleasure, for example, macho peer pressure and hierarchical education are illustrated by a depressing pyramidal landscape in which children are turned into robotic drones, serving a sinister deity, in contrast with an adjacent natural world full of happily mating sparrows and dolphins, presided over by a cheerful ancient fertility god. The painting We are Uncompetitive shows a glass corporate lobby full of dodgy businessmen, who need arms to protect their loot, while faceless office workers play games on tiny oil tankers. In We Are Aware of the Pain we Cause a sylvan meadow is full of latter day Adam and Eves inflicting violence upon each other with blunt knives. In the background, cheerful children enact traditional rituals dressed in cow masks and human skulls.

McCail, who was brought up in Edinburgh, studied at Goldsmiths in London and now lives in South Lanarkshire, is in his mid-forties. Like many Scottish artists of his generation, he has been through the Beck's Futures competition and the British Art Show. He has an established international career. If, in recent years, his work has been increasingly symbolic - his show at the Fruitmarket in 2003 had such complex diagrams that visitors were given a special key to decode it - this show is a return to clearer figurative work, with lovely chalky paint and a rich revelry in mechanical and natural detail.

His works are of such graphic precision and visual complexity, and the stories they tell are such dense and important ones, that their simple picture-book pleasures turn out to be of Biblical density. Books are important to McCail.

This show comes with a little shelf of suggested reading, which, from Stanislaw Lem's Solaris to books by Philip K Dick and J G Ballard, suggests not only an artist worried about the future, but one with a healthy interest in metaphor. If these books state the problems, then there are some solutions on the shelf, too, including R D Laing's radical and controversial prescriptions for psychiatric health.

The final painting gives the show its title. We are not Dead shows a group of young people snoozing surrounded by empty bottles and ashtrays in what might be a student flat or even the Big Brother House. There are banks of computers and electronic equipment. A handful of them, though, are awake. They are going outside and are wrapped in outdoor clothes and rucksacks.

McCail, who once described himself as "fantastically, idiotically, optimistic" suggests there is a better way to live. There endeth the lesson.

Chad McCail, We are Not Dead, is at the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until August 13. He will give a talk on his work at GoMA at 6.30pm on June 22.