A prominent Australian war artist and a leading Indigenous artist have been awarded Honorary Doctorates at UNSW.

Documentary filmmaker George Gittoes and Indigenous artist Michael Jagamara Nelson were both admitted to the University's highest honour last week in recognition of their artistic achievements and the time they have dedicated to students at UNSW's College of Fine Arts(COFA).

Mr Gittoes has spent the last two decades in the frontline of war zones internationally either filming, drawing or photographing human crises.

Most recently he received worldwide critical acclaim for his documentaries, Soundtrack to War and Rampage, both of which screened at the Sydney and Berlin film festivals.

Mr Gittoes was surprised to have been awarded an Honorary Doctorate, having never fully completed his Fine Arts degree at the University of Sydney.

"COFA is full of lecturers who are also wonderful practising artists, if COFA had existed when I started studying I would have felt more inspired to finish my degree," he says.

Despite his reputation as an award-winning Indigenous artist, Mr Nelson was equally humble about the honour.

"I'm very surprised and very nervous, but it's a great feeling to be acknowledged in this way," Mr Nelson said.

Mr Nelson has been associated with the Papunya Tula Artists, founders of the Central and Western Desert Art Movement, since 1983 and has helped establish a community art centre in Papunya. Mr Nelson's leadership encouraged a diverse range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to participate in educationally focused workshops in Papunya and at COFA.

Dean of COFA, Professor Ian Howard, is pleased that eminent artists like Mr Gittoes and Mr Nelson are being officially recognised by UNSW in this way.

"I am immensely proud that Honorary Doctorates are being bestowed on these towering figures of Australian and international art," he says.

Both Mr Gittoes and Mr Nelson are Members of the Order of Australia.