Graffiti: Art or Not?


Is graffiti art or a public nuisance? Local artists have turned Kaka’ako into their canvas. Some are inspired, while others consider it public defacement. Staff photo 2018.

David Lee, Editorial defines Graffiti as “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” Usually, this word comes with the stigma of gangs, defiance, and vandalism. But not all graffiti is unacceptable.

Hawaii is drizzled with drawings, which range from illegible scribbles to comprehensive murals. From buses to public bathrooms, chances are you’ll see new doodles everywhere you go.

Some people, who consider themselves good samaritans, look down on graffiti, and see it as defacement in which only teenage delinquents find joy.

With that stigma, graffiti make neighborhoods seem unsafe, decreasing tourism and property values.

And it can cost taxpayers; according to, graffiti cleanup averages $1-3 per taxpayer every year.

However, there are some positives. Although graffiti can lead to a neighborhood decline, it can also lead to increased tourism from so-called “graffiti-hunters.”

A common misconception about graffiti is that most is gang-related. According to statistics out of Houston and Minneapolis, gangs account for less than ten percent of graffiti. defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Graffiti fits this definition, yet why is it stigmatized?

People spend thousands of dollars on paintings, yet there may be millions of dollars of expressions and artistic statements on the streets. From political statements to colorful murals, graffiti is just another form of expression, as good as any multi-million dollar modern art painting.

“Good art” is only as good as the value one places on it, and that is arbitrary. Although we may find graffiti to be a nuisance, we should appreciate the gifts that artists bless us with.