For example in these images, what are the 'dirty spots' brushes applied to them called?
I am newbie in PS and trying to figure it out.
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They look like Paint splatter brushes to me.
Some of them are applied directly to the background directly to the background, using the
Brush Tool (B):
And some of them are being used as masks over other elements (new layer with the brush, then apply as mask over other elements):